Monday, November 24, 2014

David Johnson, Kahlil Gibran, and Jay Glerum

When I was nineteen, I apprenticed in upstate New York at the Spa Summer Theatre in Saratoga Springs. Apprentices do everything no one else wants to do and they do it for very little pay. The big reward for theatre apprentices is brushing elbows with wizened live-theatre professionals, thereby gathering experience and anecdotes to last a lifetime.  

I sold tickets and intermission refreshments, ushered ticketholders, cleaned bathrooms, swept the stage, painted a lot of scenery, helped actresses with their quick changes between scenes, and ran errands for anyone—property master, costumer, business manager, theatre owner. I laundered demanding Margaret Truman’s “delicates,” took clothing  to the cleaners for gracious Joseph Schildkraut, tidied the makeup table for kind Celeste Holmes, swept the dressing room floor for irritable Groucho Marks. The list goes on. One of the highlights was joining Paul Linde for breakfast, a man as funny offstage as he was on, after partying all night with him.

Oh, yes, we did party! Nearly every evening after the show, we closed down an After-Hours Club that produced a drag song-and-dance show starting at midnight. “We” were the four apprentices along with our seasoned colleagues, a number of professional, experienced staff― stage manager, electrician, box-office head, prop-master, scenic designer, business manager—some old enough to be my parents.  New York’s drinking age in 1959 was nineteen,  so my drinking of hard liquor was legal, as well as frequently excessive. I learned a lot about life that summer!

Needless to say, I still harbor vivid memories about that summer, not the least of which was meeting David Johnson, a young air force recruit stationed nearby. He was tall, handsome, and crazy about theatre. He’d was as close to being a groupie as the Spa Summer Theatre had. He hung around the crew and began to join us at the After Hours Club. One night he sat down next to me and began talking about poetry. The more we drank, the more he expounded on poetry’s place in the world and the more attentively I listened.  His passion for Kahlil Gibran, a poet/writer/artist I’d never heard of, was so contagious I don’t know whom I developed the greater crush on that night. Within a few months of returning to Seattle I’d bought nearly every one of Gibran’s dozen or so books in print. I read them all and marked up passages with underlining and check marks—my heart resonating with the mystical writing of this Lebanese-born mystic Christian who lived his adult life in the U.S.

In my middle-aged years I culled many books from my youth, but kept four of Gibran’s works—the ones with the most notation and highlights—because I wanted to keep in touch with my younger self. Today I pulled out my worn copy of The Prophet for the first time in a decade and fell in love all over again with the chapter called


Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your
laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your
being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very
cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your
spirit, the very wood that was hollowed
with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into
your heart and you shall find it is only that
which has given you sorrow that is giving
you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in
your heart, and you shall see that in truth
you are weeping for that which has been
your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is
the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits
lone with you at your board, remember
that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales be-
tween your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at
standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to
weigh his gold and his silver, needs must
your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.
I have understood from the first moment of my bereavement that if there had not been joy in our fifty-two years of marriage, I would not feel such sorrow. I am lucky to be missing Jay. This Thanksgiving-week Monday I’m feeling grateful for being introduced to The Prophet fifty-five years ago—and the pleasure of rediscovering it again today.  Thank you, David Johnson, wherever you may be, for that enduring endorsement. Thank you Mr. Gibran for your beautiful expression of truth. And thank you, dear Jay, for a good and long marriage.   

1 comment:

Maryann Downing said...

Dear Sallie,
Still had your blog on my computer & I was thinking of you this first Christmas without Jay. We were lucky to meet the two of you, so full of life, in Florida. I was so moved by your Thanksgiving week blog that I wanted to comment. The Christmas after my divorce I was so full of tears, even though it had not been good -- maybe some emotional bruising that hadn't yet healed -- but your grief is at another depth. My thoughts and prayers -- we knew you for such a brief time but it was a lovely memory from that trip. May 2015 be rich in healing and in new joys, Maryann