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River of Gold

I know some people don’t like rain, but after living 35 years in Los Angeles, every time it rains at our new home in Washington State I cannot stop smiling.

The energetic atmosphere, the wind, the moisture, and most of all the sky itself thrill and amaze me. Every moment presents a different quality of light on the water, every evening introduces new colors to my visual vocabulary.

The days are shorter here, which works just fine for me. It’s twilight by 4ish, and night by 4:30. Since I prefer to do most of my work in the earlier hours, that just means I get to get up earlier and knock off earlier, leaving long luxurious evenings in front of the fire.

Recently our daughters and their boyfriends visited. I had warned them that they would have to make the most of the daylight, so on the first morning, the surfer among them came bounding down the hall at 7 a.m. in his pj bottoms, arms in the air, calling excitedly, “We have to get everybody up. It’s gonna’ be dark soon!”

It was funny, because it’s true. We repeated the line often during their visit and it became the vacation mantra, one or the other of us would attempt to rally the others to get going to lunch or a hike or a trip to the beach to gather oysters because…“It’s gonna’ be dark soon!”

It wasn’t until after they left and Christmas flew by that I realized what an apt motto it was. I mean, it’s true in so many ways. The twinkling holiday lights will shine for few weeks only to be packed away, summer’s brilliance dims, youthful relationships that kindled warmth fall away as lives get complicated, and eventually we all wander into death’s shade.

It’s gonna’ be dark sooner or later. Well, soon enough. And while that can be sad, depressing even, it doesn’t have to be. It can actually be comforting in its offer of perspective. We know the sun will set, winter will come, we know intellectually that everything, even the planet, even the universe, will eventually come to an end. All the better to remind ourselves to run down hallways, along beaches, up hillsides, through meadows, shouting, “It’s gonna’ be dark soon!” to celebrate the light that we have now.

One of my dearest friends and mentors was a lifelong sufferer of Crone’s disease. I remember, back when he was in his forties, going for a test that would tell him if the disease had flared to an uncontrollable point, one that would mean his untimely demise. He had to wait 24 hours to get the results.

“You would think—hell, I thought,” he told me, “that would be one of the worst days of my life, that pressure, that unknowing.” He smiled and shook his head. “Turns out, it was one of the best because nothing, and I mean nothing, bothered me. Nothing was important. Someone cut me off in traffic? Not worth getting angry about. My soup was served cold? No big deal. My family is fighting? It pales in significance compared to the pronouncement of a death sentence.”

In short, he said, it was amazing. Everyone shone brighter, and he appreciated every small thing. After the news came that he would likely live a few more years, the elation faded, and things went back to being annoying and frustrating, but he could still laugh things off better than anyone else I’ve ever known. Once, when I was bitching about graffiti in my neighborhood, he asked, “Can’t you just see it as urban art?” I couldn’t, so I stressed and fumed ineffectually. But he could. Where I saw a problem, he chose to see beauty.

That was the amazing David Beaird. He was a man from whom I learned so much. One of the best writers I’ve ever met, though he wrote plays and movies instead of books like I do. My favorite of his movies, ‘Scorchers,’ opens with a very brave three-minute monologue given by one of the finest actors I know. The monologue talks about growing up and swimming in a river lit golden by sunlight, yet when he tried to tell grownups in a position of authority that he found this legendary place, they told him there is no such thing as golden river. He was crushed and hurt, but, he goes on to say, they could never make me believe it didn’t exist because, “I swum in it.”

It’s a glorious piece of writing, and one of my favorite acting performances. You should look it up.

This last year, my friend David passed away, the lifetime of pain and disease finally caught up in spite of his amazing spirit. His widow, who is a remarkable human in her own right, came up to visit me a few months afterward. She told me about the long wait in the hospital once he’d lost consciousness, and the vigil of family of friends. The best of those friends was the actor who performed that golden river monologue a thousand times on stage and once for the movie, Leland Crooke.

We talked about the fact that Leland had always been David’s muse as well as his best friend. Then she showed me something wonderful. While she and Leland had sat bedside, unsure if David was aware of anything around him, Leland began to speak those beautiful words in the golden river monologue to the man who wrote them, for only him. My friend very quietly recorded the moment.

The image is something I will not forget. Two men, lifelong friends, one on life support, the other sitting in a chair beside the bed, delivering a private performance. He recited from his heart those words about believing in things that you know to be true no matter what anyone in a position of ‘authority’ tells you. No one can deny the existence of that golden river because, once you’ve swum in it, it belongs to you. It is beautiful, it is magical, and it is real.

I have been honored to love so much, to live so fully, and to have experiences of my own like that golden river. Places and moments have happened for me that I alone remember, that only I know to be true.

So, I think, it’s important to see that night will inevitably fall, bringing an unknown eternity or the sweet relief of nothingness. Life is fleeting, slippery, and finite.

And if you remember that, then you will wonder at all the beauty around you. You can go and search for your golden river every day. Maybe for you it will be a silver mist that swirls around  in a forest, or a glint of rainbow prisms through a dew drop. Your moments may be huge, or they may flash past, but if you absorb them into your heart, they will live with you, and no one can ever take that away.

So today, I shall run in the rain, and splash in puddles, and slip into the forest to sit still and listen to the drip of moisture onto moss and leaf, the subtle, soft thump-thump of life.

And tomorrow I will get out bed and my spirit will shout to get up and play, because, “It’s gonna’ be dark soon!”

Because of that perspective, the river will shine a more brilliant gold.

The birdsong will pierce my heart with beauty.

I will notice the magic everywhere.

Thank you, David.

I love you.

Shari, January 3rd, 2020

4 thoughts on “River of Gold”

  1. Happy New Year, Shari!! Thank you, again, for such a wonderful piece of writing that hits so close to home and my own heart. I love your descriptions of everything, and especially the last scene in the hospital. So poignant, so heart rending and so special. It reminds me of what my Mam went through in her final hours. Thank you, so much. Love to you and Joseph 🙂 <3

    1. Passing can be so beautiful, as it often brings out the best in the rest of us, and of course, those little things that usually upset you just don’t matter for a while. Love to you my friend. Shari

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