He was no ordinary mime. A portal opened from another realm, and he would step through and onto Planet Earth, 40.7789º N, 73.9637º W, before the sweeping steps of the Metropolitan Museum. It was New York City in the 1970s. I was a college student, and my art class met at the museum. Whenever he was there, I was mesmerized by his vibrancy, his intensity, and his silent movement.
Watching him was that moment before lightning hits, when you can sense electricity in the air and feel the back of your neck tingle. He could bend time without uttering a word. Everything would speed up and he’d be manic, weightless, strong. Everything would shift to slow motion. He’d move with grace; centered, solid, fluid. At times, he was as still as stone. Or animated, funny. Earthy, but not earthly, as his ephemeral creations morphed from this to that. You, my friend, like me, would stop and be in the moment.
I saw him enough that I later recognized him on a TV show, without his face paint, but still out of this world. He played an alien. The show: Happy Days. His name: Robin Williams.
You know the rest of the story. He made us laugh long and loud…he was a soldier in the war on sadness. We knew some of his own battles, but did not, until last year, know how brave he was. With so much of his work filled with language and sound, the memory of him, performing in silence, haunts me.
A portal opened from another realm, 37.9128º N, 122.4756º W. It was Paradise Cay, CA, August 11, 2014. Silently, Robin Williams stepped into it, and out of, Planet Earth. You, my friend, like me, stopped to be in the moment. We let his silence fill us.
Brooklyn, New York, in the late 1950s/early 1960s.
My childhood was not without its rough edges, though I will save those stories for another time. It had its smooth edges, too. A considerable softness came in the form of my older sister and her friends. My most vivid memory of them is when they were teenagers. There were several years between us, enough to make them magical beings, light years ahead of me in the spectral arc of discovery. They were ever moving through this incredible cosmic realm, swirling somewhere between being a girl and being a woman.
Their bedrooms held a menagerie of stuffed animals, yet the air was scented with hairspray and noxzema, and filled with music. It was the radio, or records, and laughter, always laughter, as the backdrop, as they practiced the newest American Bandstand dances, learned the latest lyrics. It was rock and roll. Growing up. Freedom.
I remember their crazy hair curlers, their bumps and curves. We had sodas at Woolworths and sometimes saw a Saturday matinee. I listened to them talk about clothes, and school, and boys. Their essence was within reach, not only in my being intrigued by who they were, but envisioning the near horizon of who I would become. They seemed to know everything about everything, and I was afforded a glimpse into the mystery of their circle.
One of the girls was Marion. She had dark hair, and dark eyes, like most of the neighborhood Italian girls. What set her apart was that she was funny and warm; quick to laugh, and even quicker at getting everyone else to laugh. She was also the one whose eyes would fill with tears when she heard a sad story. If you were hurting, she’d cry with you. I remember her compassionate heart, as beautiful and deep as her soulful brown eyes.
My sister later parted ways with the family. It was a staggering loss. But, it was Marion who would fill that gap for me, keeping the bridge to that wonderful past alive. My mother’s relationship with Marion’s brother brought us all together as family. Marion was married and had her own sweet little girl. I grew up having many Sunday dinners with all of them at Marion’s parents place, and many gatherings at her home, or mine. Great meals, good times.
We spent time together through the years. She remained ever that person who made those funny faces, laughed with you, cried with you. I am grateful that I got to tell Marion that my memory of her was always the teenage version of her, my magical vision of her, and that she was always a big sister to me.
Marion passed recently, suddenly. I hadn’t seen her in a long time. Her husband, daughter, grandchildren, brothers, niece, relatives, and friends, will grieve the staggering loss; love her, miss her, remember her. My mind and heart will always hold her in that ephemeral moment of her teenage youth. Lord have mercy. It was glorious.
They say the ocean has its own music….it must be true — one of its instruments appeared on New York’s East River shore, under the Brooklyn Bridge.
What music do you hear?
See my Piano on the Shore series
THE FAB FOUR
Raphael – The group’s bad boy. Rebellious, he doesn’t like anyone telling him what to do. His personality can be fierce and sarcastic, with a deadpan humor.
Weapon: Twin Sais. Color: Red
Leonardo – The level-headed tactician and responsible one. Creative. Protective. He has strong leadership qualities. As a result, he sometimes conflicts with Raphael.
Weapon: Twin Katanas. Color: Blue
Donatello – Less outspoken, a calmer, more reserved member of the group. He is the the wise one, and though quiet, he is intense. The least violent in the group, he uses peaceful methods to solve conflicts, but never hesitates to defend his brothers. He is a Ninjitsu master.
Weapon: Bo Staff. Color: Purple
Michelangelo – Easy-going, fun-loving, athletic. He is often the comic relief in the group, with his physical antics and carefree style. While he loves to relax, he also has an adventurous side. He knows how to wield those sticks!
Weapon: Nunchakus. Color: Orange
Wait a minute! These aren’t the Beatles, they’re the Ninja Turtles. Or — are they?
But…it WAS 50 years today when The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.
And here’s another clue for you all: Leonardo was Paul.
I am an avid reader of Charles R Hale’s blog called Stories Connect Love Heals. He posed the question “who are you?” – in terms of your ancestral history. He was kind enough to post my response, and here is the full piece.
Who Am I?
I am the one who climbed out of the primordial ooze and found my grasp. I am the East African who made the tool; and the ancient warrior whose hand found the spear. I am the creative one, in Namibia, France, and Spain, who fashioned a paint brush, telling stories on cave walls. I am the Sumerian who began to plant. I am the one who plucked the string, and I am the one who pulled the trigger.
I am the shilpi whose chisel opened the eye of an Indian god. And the Chinese scholar learning the Four Arts. I am the Roman gladiator in the arena taking his last breath, and the Greek fisherman’s newborn taking its first.
I am the Pauite who believed in the ghost dance, and among the soldiers who silenced him. I am the Slovenian discovering the flute and the Turk who built the temple. I am the one who built the bridge, and I am the one who built the prison.
I am the seanchai keeping the rich oral tradition alive with colorful tales of Ireland, and the Spartan whose culture will die. I am my immigrant grandfather and his oldest son digging deep inside a coal mine, moving closer, with each shovel of soil, to bringing my grandmother and their children across the ocean from Italy. I am the soldier who didn’t come home, and I am the soldier who did…
Who are you?