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Playwrights' Perspectives

Playwright’s Perspective: I Was Most Alive with You

By Craig Lucas, Playwright

People say life isn’t fair and I know it’s true because I have received more than my fair share of good fortune.

But eventually a succession of catastrophes arrived and I did not know how to proceed.

A wise ally suggested the choice in old age is one between wisdom and despair, and he directed me toward the oldest of the wisdom books in the Torah, the Book of Job. 

To say this book shocked me is an understatement. 

A great heap of grief and injustice is dumped on Job who is “blameless and upright in all things.”

If you fixate on God’s actions — as I have done for most of my life, declaring myself an avowed atheist like all the well-educated people I ever knew gazing out on life’s inequities — you can’t help but be as outraged as Job. God accepts a bet proposed by Satan: “Take away all of Job’s gifts and let’s see how much he loves you.” 

Job wants answers, demanding to see God, but Satan loses the bet, because the one thing Job won’t do is curse God.

When God does show up, he delivers the ultimate indignity to poor maligned Job. God’s message? “Mind your own business about what I’m doing. Focus on your own affairs.”

Humility is the message.

Why I connected with this is that my own abuse of alcohol and drugs brought me to my knees and caused so much suffering for the people who loved me. When I at last sought a solution, I was told I had to humble myself and find a power higher than myself.

To my generation, this idea was absurd. An affront.

The Enlightenment project that lead through Rousseau, Voltaire, Spinoza, and all the philosophers down to today told us emphatically that mankind is the highest power in the universe. And who wouldn’t want to believe that?

The problem for me was that I couldn’t handle the responsibilities of a god. Earthquakes and floods, tornados and lava flows, gravity, thunderstorms. They’re all more powerful than I. The collective power of society is greater than my powers. 

When I proceed with the arrogance of my assumptions, that I know better… When I refuse to remain teachable… When I talk more than I listen… When I join a tribe via Twitter and grow self-righteous with fury about other people’s choices… When I worry about prizes and acknowledgements and material gain, I get smaller, increasingly unhappy, less human, more monstrous.

It has been an eye-opening journey. 

I have a friend whose higher power is Meryl Streep. I don’t think that’s a bad place to start.

There are lots of ways to become humble. Life will do it to you anyway.

But at a time of the very worst luck, the greatest losses, most profound griefs … the questioning of everything that had held my life together, or so I thought … when savings, home, and loved ones all were threatened or had vanished … what remained?

Well, it may not mean anything to anyone else, but what I found was the quiet sound of the universe in the dark when everyone was asleep.

When I look up from my iPhone, when I meet the face of another — it doesn’t have to be a human, I’m very happy with other mammals and birds and creepy crawly things, when I’m in the forest or sit with the writings of someone who lived and died before me…

I locate a connection to something greater than myself.

I think what has always been meant by the word God is something that does not have anything to do with any of the images or shibboleths my friends and I have been so busy deriding. 

For centuries we’ve been promised a point would be reached where humans would know everything about the nature of things. We would master the challenges of labor, society, the atom, our minds, consciousness, the origins of the universe.

And each year the answers get stranger, the solutions dance away from us laughing and slipping over the horizon. 

We now have more information at our fingertips at any second than any time before. And we are now more tribalized and vociferous in our indignation than ever before.

The machines and technology that were going to free us from our jobs and from a life chained to desks or assembly lines have left us with less time for contemplation, less and less time with our kids and families, shorter vacations, less savings, more fear.

The weapons that were guaranteed to keep us safe from our enemies have now been gained by more nations and the threats grow greater each moment.

How do we live with things we can’t change or fix or understand? What do we do with the insurmountable?

That question is what made me write this play. To touch that place in others who also confront the immovable, irreparable, inconceivable. And the inevitable.