I didn’t go out looking for negative characters; I went out looking for people
who have a struggle and a fight to tackle. That’s what interests me.
-Philip Seymour Hoffman
A brilliant actor and fully human man died yesterday morning in his Manhattan Apartment. Such brilliance, gone too soon.
And while many on the Internet Machine expressed my same kind of disbelief and grief, some chose another route: “He did it to himself. How could he do this to his family? So selfish.”
Leaving aside much larger conversations about how we stigmatize mental illness and addiction, and leaving aside the presumptuousness of that response, and leaving aside the sheer mechanics of addiction, I am still left with the sheer dehumanization that implies: Who chooses which people deserve our compassion and which don’t?
My thoughts are so much with his children and partner and all who loved the real man named Philip Seymour Hoffman whom we only admire in his public form and yet feel connected to because he exposed us to ourselves.
“There was no actor, in our time, who more ably suggested that each of us is the sum of our secrets…no actor who better let us know what he knew, which is that when each of us returns alone to our room, all bets are off. He used his approachability to play people who are unacceptable, especially to themselves; indeed, his whole career might be construed as a pre-emptive plea for forgiveness to those with the unfortunate job of cleaning up what he — and we — might leave behind.
“His metier was human loneliness — the terrible uncinematic kind that has very little to do with high-noon heroism and everything to do with everyday empathy — and the necessary curse of human self-knowledge. He held up a mirror to those who could barely stand to look at themselves and invited us not only to take a peek but to see someone we recognized. He played frauds who knew they were frauds, schemers who knew they were schemers, closeted men who could only groan with frustrated love, heavy breathers dignified by impeccable manners, and angels who could withstand the worst that life could hand out because they seemed to know the worst was just the beginning. And what united all his roles was the stoic calm he brought to them, the stately concentration that assured us that no matter whom Philip Seymour Hoffman played, Philip Seymour Hoffman himself was protected.” -Tom Junod in Esquire
Addiction is not selfish.
True compassion is not conditional.
And longing to have been able to witness another 30 years of great work from a brilliant artist is not superficial.
“Last year, when President Kennedy was assassinated, who among us did not experience the most profound disorientation?
Despair? Which way? What now? What do I say to my kids? What do I tell myself?
It was a time of people sitting together, bound together by a common feeling of hopelessness. But think of that! Your BOND with your fellow being was your Despair. It was a public experience. It was awful, but we were in it together.
How much worse is it then for the lone man, the lone woman, stricken by a private calamity?
‘No one knows I’m sick.’
‘No one knows I’ve lost my last real friend.’
‘No one knows I’ve done something wrong.’
Imagine the isolation. Now you see the world as through a window. On one side of the glass: happy, untroubled people, and on the other side: you.
I want to tell you a story. A cargo ship sank one night. It caught fire and went down. And only this one sailor survived. He found a lifeboat, rigged a sail…and being of a nautical discipline…turned his eyes to the Heavens and read the stars. He set a course for his home, and exhausted, fell asleep. Clouds rolled in. And for the next twenty nights, he could no longer see the stars. He thought he was on course, but there was no way to be certain. And as the days rolled on, and the sailor wasted away, he began to have doubts. Had he set his course right? Was he still going on towards his home? Or was he horribly lost… and doomed to a terrible death? No way to know.
The message of the constellations – had he imagined it because of his desperate circumstance? Or had he seen truth once… and now had to hold on to it without further reassurance?
There are those of you in church today who know exactly the crisis of faith I describe. And I want to say to you: DOUBT can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.”
-First sermon from the movie “Doubt”, performed by Philip Seymour Hoffman
I am mindful of how we stand on one side of the glass as he says, looking at all the happy people, our own wound hidden, that secret about ourselves festering and separating us from the others even more (I’m not as smart as they think, I’m sick, my house is a mess, I’m broke, I’m not as creative as she is, I sometimes wish for things I cannot have, I feel lost, I don’t know, I don’t even understand what the Dow Jones Industrial Average means, I’m an imposter, I eat cereal for dinner). And how often–at least in this society–we feel we must pay someone to tell them these things about us, as if revealing these truths or beliefs are too much for a friendship to bear. Sometimes, I suppose, they are.
“It was a public experience. It was awful, but we were in it together. How much worse is it then for the lone man, the lone woman, stricken by a private calamity?”
Sometimes I wonder how much we invest in our own woundedness when investing in our capacity for joy might be right at hand, just there, just on the other side of the glass.
Sometimes I wonder what healing might take place if we all just put down the glass that separates us.
Sometimes I wonder how self-righteous we must be to insist we could never be on the other side of the glass, where Philip Seymour Hoffman was, and many are, in their addiction.
We can be mindful of the isolation of others. Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining (perhaps even more so) as certainty.
Know that when you are lost, you are not alone. When you are sober, you are brother to whomever is not.
I am bereft at this man’s death because I long for another 30 years of his art. His family is bereft because they long for another 30 years of his life with them. And yet, in both cases, I imagine, we are thankful to have been witnesses to the art he has so beautifully crafted thus far.