ThIs year’s Tony Awards ceremony was a collection of emotional acceptance speeches. (For the information of anyone who lives in a cocoon, the awards are for excellence in the theatre.)The one that struck me most was by the winner as featured actor, Ari’el Stachel. Stating that his parents were in the audience, Stachel interrupted the dutiful applause to confess that in the past he had kept them away from events like this out of fear that their presence would reveal a Middle Eastern identity he was trying to hide. (His father’s an Israeli Yemenite,his mother’s a Jewish New Yorker.)
A young child when 9/11 happened, Stachel was so afraid of being seen as an Arab he didn’t even allow his father to come to his graduation. Ironically, the identity he had tried to hide helped him land a role in “The Band’s Visit,” a musical about Palestinians and Israelis finding a way to get along. (If only this weren’t fiction!). Playing a Middle Easterner, he says, “strengthened” his sense of his own heritage and allowed him to accept it. His message at the Tony’s to “kids out there” was direct: ”What you think is your biggest obstacle may turn into your greatest purpose.”
Those were the words I rushed to inscribe in my ever-ready notebook . For how many of us are faced with an obstacle that we believe keeps us from the work and life we want?
It reminds me if a conversation I had several years ago with Jeanette Walls, the feisty author of “The Glass Castle.” Walls told me that for years she hid her past from everyone, because she feared rejection if people knew about a childhood so poverty-stricken she ate from garbage pails, and had parents who qualified for Most Dysfunctional. It was only when she – like Stachel – owned up to who she was that she was able to use her pain productively. Stachel’s courage led him to Broadway fame; hers to a memoir that has sold millions of copies.
Walls is hardly alone in the long list of famous artists who converted what they believed to be an insurmountable obstacle into what they were meant to do. Laura Hillenbrand had such severe Chronic Fatigue Syndrome she was unable to leave her house for years. Needing a way to “escape from my body,” she turned to writing. The result was her hugely popular best-sellers Seabiscuit and Unbroken. “Writing,” she said, “enables me to create things that have importance.”
The obstacle doesn’t have to be a serious affliction, of course. For many it may be having to work at a job that leaves you so exhausted awriting seems impossible. Yet that may actually fuel your determination. To support his family, Faulkner worked night shifts in a power plant. Despite a grueling schedule, he used the hours from midnight to 4:00AM to write his famous novel As I Lay Dying.
The hurdle may also be the day-to-day care of an ailing loved one, leaving scant room for creativity. As readers of these blogs know, that’s been my personal challenge. Actually it’s my second time around, for decades ago I had the care of my terminally ill husband. After his death, driven by a desire to let other people know what to expect from the “craziness” of the medical world and the challenges of forging a new life, I was impelled to write my memoir Widow’s Walk. In a bizarre exchange, tragedy led to a new career. It wasn’t a bargain I’d have wanted, but none of us have the choice.
This week I discovered a Zen saying that says it best:: The obstacle is the path. Whether we see it as a dead-end or a way forward is up to us.
BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through iUniverse.com; Turning Toward Tomorrow -Xlibris.com; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play – both through Amazon.com and Amazon Kindle.