“I feel really awake. I don’t recall ever feeling this awake. You know? Everything looks different now. You feel like that? You feel like you got something to live for now?” – Thelma
Last week in Chicago, under the expanse of July dusk, in a folding seat at Millennium Park – Thelma and Louise. The day before in the same park – a Black Lives Matter sit-in. Tonight, a protest march. And now, as though they came back to comment on this moment in time, this moment of progress and no progress, there on the screen: Sarandon and Davis.
Waitresses. Hard knocks. Lousy men. Brad Pitt and those eyes. Harvey Keitel trying to be good but failing. And Sarandon driving and driving, not knowing that Tim Robbins and two kids are on the horizon. Driving.
Earlier that day – walking to my training in the heart of the theatre district. Under a wall-sized poster for Hamilton – the Skylar sisters reaching for the heavens – a man was sleeping on cardboard, covered by a blanket, moaning for someone to call an ambulance. I paused. I tried to see him better – did he look alright? He called out again. People passed. Part of me reasoned that this is how it is in the city – bleak and awful, but keep walking. And I chose that voice because it was the easiest to follow.
A half hour later when I walked toward the same block, a coffee now in hand, there was an ambulance and the man was gone – presumably inside the vehicle. I got into the theatre where my workshop was being held, pulled out my notebook and scrawled in red ink: Live a life of action. WAKE THE FUCK UP!
When I first watched Thelma and Louise I was in my mid-twenties, freshly shot out of graduate school, and all of that Derrida and Cixous and Iragaray and Foucault made me roll my eyes at the Hollywood spectacle. I felt so above and beyond poor Thelma and Louise. That’s what good graduate school did for me – it made me a picker, a complainer, an eye roller.
But not last week with a breeze off of Lake Michigan and the summer people spread out on blankets behind me. I hung on each word and marveled at the way these characters unraveled into strength, fell apart into determination. Most of all – they woke up. Awake to the world and its inequities. But more so wide wide awake to themselves and the Beauty.
“You awake?” Thelma asks. It’s toward the very end. The green mountains passing by are so awake – so beautiful. “You awake?” she might as well as have been asking the audience. Because a lot of shit is going down. Some of it is ugly. A lot of it is gorgeous. Pay attention!
And when you do – when you do wake up, that’s it – you don’t get to turn back. Just like Thelma who, looking out at all of that wide open space, knows she can’t go back to her life which now seems pale, emaciated, and crowded with banality.
“Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back,” wrote John O’Donohue. “From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.”
Toward the edge. Toward the abyss. Toward living.