“The effort must be total for the results to be meaningful.”
-Professor E. M. Ashford in Margaret Edson’s W;t
“Now is a time for simplicity. Now is a time for, dare I say it, kindness.
I thought being extremely smart would take care of it. But I see that I have been found out.” -Professor Vivian Bearing, Ashford’s former student, near her death in W;t
Until recently, I thought that whatever important work I managed in my life would happen in “important moments.” Inspired moments. I tried to find my way toward ‘total effort’ because I thought that’s how you find transcendence. (Poems that sing themselves. Laws that are fair. Houses that really, really house). These days I’m not so sure. That’s one way to transcendence. When I’m climbing a mountain, I love the immersion of skin and stone, the world poured into a touch. But I don’t think it’s the only way.
W;t follows Professor Vivian Bearing as she struggles with the idea of living, the idea of dying, and the pain of chemotherapy. Bearing tells us near the beginning that the play will end with her death. A little bit before that end, Ashford, Vivian’s old teacher–the one who said that “effort must be total”–comes back into her life for one more scene. Ashford climbs up onto Vivian’s hospital bed. She reads a children’s story to the grown woman who was once her student. In that moment, I don’t think Ashford–who’s probably brilliant–is using the far reaches of her intellect. I don’t think she’s pushing the edge of what’s possible. I think she’s sharing a moment with someone, and with simplicity. She’s being present. She’s being kind.
I think lots of the work I do in the world is done in little moments. Genius is fun, and lightning is bright, but it’s long, soaking rains that refill ground water. If any spirits are out there reading this, and they’ve got a bottle of inspiration to pass around, I’m not saying I don’t want a sip. I hope to taste lightning again. But until that sip I’ll be here, working where I am, loving where I can. Breathing, for here, for now, and sharing in whatever little half-way ways I can.
I don’t have that bottle of lightning, but there’s water here, and a few minutes. Following Ashford, following Bearing, what I have I’m happy to share.