What Today Brings
“You grow up the day you have the first real laugh at yourself.” – Ethel Barrymore
Well isn’t that the truth. What a screaming bore it is when someone has absolutely no sense of humor about themselves. How can that be when human beings wander around with blinders on, striving for whatever the ego professes is important. That little devil may say it is a person he can’t live without or a position in society she is determined to gain or terrified to lose. Possibly it is revenge or any number circumstances one finds themselves in a vain attempt to be made whole from the outside in. When the realization comes that we survived and even thrived without that which previously made us sick with desperation, why not smile?
What a tragedy to not be able to laugh, what a rigid existence to never have a chuckle at the whole ball of wax, to be so emotionally blocked as to squeeze tightly, holding on to something you never had a chance of getting in the first place, power over anything outside of yourself. The illusion of self-importance is futile, the belief that our personhood, our gains and failures, solely belong to us is nearsighted. The picture is infinitely larger and there is no better way to acknowledge and express enlightenment than having a good laugh at how a particular drama played out. Because that is what they are, dramas.
Shakespeare had the pulse of the human condition better than anyone. Sometime between 1585 and 1613 he laid them all out, got deep inside every greedy, jealous, lustful, gluttonous, prideful, lazy, wrathful impulse. Astonishingly, they are the same ones, these hundreds of years later.
No one knew the works of Shakespeare better than Ethel Barrymore, known as the “First Lady of American Theatre.” The actress is part of a family dynasty of theatrical artists, her grandmother was a theatre manager, her uncle an actor, her brothers were John and Lionel Barrymore, her nephew was John Drew Barrymore and her great niece is Drew Barrymore who will be carrying that family torch all the way to Versailles this month for a movie called, The Stand In. Ethel’s mother passed away from tuberculosis in 1893 and she and her brother had to leave high school and take to the stage. By 1895 she was on Broadway. Necessity was the mother of invention and they invented a glorious legacy in the theatre. How exciting to have been among the first actors on the Broadway stage, putting a mirror up for audiences to see themselves. In 1905, she played Nora in Henrik Ibsen’s classic, A Doll’s House, in 1922 she was Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, she did 15 silent films and many ‘talkies’ after. Winston Churchill wanted to marry her.
Who better knew the innumerable ways a person can live than she who impeccably portrayed such a myriad herself? I believe her when she says it is a sign of growing up to have a good laugh at ourselves. I believe her when she said, “When life knocks you to your knees, and it will, well, get up! If it knocks you to your knees again, as it will, well, isn’t that the best position from which to pray?”