the privilege to love
A few days before Andy’s body was found in the Hudson River he came to me in a dream. It was one of those false wake up dreams. I awoke to my phone ringing and his sister, Emily, was on the other line. She simply said, “please hold.” And then I heard his voice. “Hi Kell-Bell,” he said. The familiarity and intimacy of the nickname I hadn’t thought about in the month since he’d been missing struck me.
He said more, but I didn’t hear it because at the sound of his voice I just started weeping uncontrollably. You might even call it wailing. “I’m so glad you’ve been found.” I kept saying over and over. In my dream I was elated, but the tears I cried weren’t happy tears, they were mournful. I cried so hard that I woke myself as well as my husband up. My pillow was wet.
Andy had been found but not in the manner that we had hoped.
When I heard the news in waking life I was in the midst of a call with my cohort group from the Living School and we were discussing the Rilke poem “Go to the Limits of Your Longing.”
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Book of Hours, I 59
- Rainer Maria Rilke, trans Joanna Macy
The poem now and ever will be tied to Andy for me.
Andy was certainly “sent beyond his recall.” As his father said at the memorial, Andy was given the gift of sensitivity without any of the armor for resiliency. Someone else described it as a thin membrane between his heart and the world. And yet Andy would continue to “go to the limits of his longing” with his work, with his relationships. At the end of his life, Andy realized he yearned for things that were always just a breathe away from him. He would say to me on the phone, “Why did I waste so much time trying to please the people that didn’t matter?” I think he longed for community and to be an instrument of love and healing in the world.
Andy was a fully embodied presence. As an actor his body was his instrument and he would often remind you how “in tune” it was. Though in the postscript of the last email he sent me he said, “Too many revelations of how I might have lived in a broken body I wish I wasn't stuck with.” He felt things fully and viscerally.
Many people at the memorial including the rabbis mentioned how Andy would show up out of the blue for visits. I remember having breakfast one morning and seeing Andy dancing on my front lawn. I watched him for a while before I went out to the stoop for a lengthy chat. Andy showed up. He was present.
The lines in the poem that most reflect Andy though are the next, “flare up like a flame / and make big shadows I can move in.” Andy was special. He was brilliant. His Uncle Tommy said “Andy was a comet.” How true!! Andy was a celestial event.
Those of us who knew and loved him were marked by him. I can’t even list the number of things Andy taught me and introduced me to. The comments that he would make that would move me toward new studies or insights. He taught me how to be a better theater teacher. He was the first person to teach me about the enneagram. He inspired me to become a spiritual director. Most of all he taught me how to listen and how to love someone not always easy to love. He told me once after a soul-searching conversation that he always felt like I saw him, saw the real him when we were together. And I hope I did, but I also know that Andy saw me and loved me in spite of my flaws; in spite of my not showing up and being the friend he sometimes needed me to be. He loved me enough to tell me the truth even when it was hard.
Those who suffer from bipolar disorder understand the next lines of Rilke’s poem probably better than anyone - “let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. / Just keep going, no feeling is final.”
I don’t know if the tides would have shifted for Andy if he had just kept going. If he could have stepped out of the terror to find beauty again. Maybe. But I do know this: that Andy did not “let [himself] lose [G-d].” I read this today and it felt like a welcome assurance:
“G-d is not simply alongside us when we’re dying. He’s inside the experience with us. He shares his death with us so we’re not alone when we die even if no one else is with us.” - Ken Tanner
I sent the quote to my friend Meghan, another of Andy’s good friends and she replied back, “I stood next to the river yesterday by the climbing gym and let myself imagine Andy’s last moments. I expected to feel dark and lonely terror, trying to put myself in Andy’s place for that moment. But instead, I felt God sort of nudge me in a different direction as if to say, ‘Actually, that wasn’t it at all. He was with Me, and all was well.’”
Which leads me to the last line of the Rilke, “Give me your hand.” Andy was not alone. Andy was FOUND in the spiritual sense. He was not alone and is not alone. God walked with Andy silently out of the night. Out of his Dark Night.
Rabbi Jim Goodman said at the memorial, God’s love is now flowing through Andy’s big vulnerable heart like a river out to all of us who had the privilege of loving him.
And it was a privilege. I feel like my memories right now are like one of those pin art toys where you push your fingers against the pins and on the opposite side it reveals a sculpture of your hand. Except when I push on the pins all my memories of Andy come up to the foreground and all memories without Andy fade behind. Last June, on Andy’s 47th birthday I spent the afternoon with him in my backyard. We ate cheese and drank wine. And last August on my birthday when my friend Bess made a video for my 50th, Andy made the longest recording. I only share Andy’s eulogy of me here in order for you to see what a dear, loving and thoughtful man he was. The best he saw in me is truly the mirror of the best I saw in him.
Andy called me “Everybody’s Horatio” a generous naming, though really I think I was simply his Horatio…
“There cracks a noble heart. Good night, Sweet Prince; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest….” - Hamlet Act V, ii