Curled up in a cosy little huddle around the coffee table, we listened intently as Maggie chattered away, a sparkle in her eye and a genuine smile upon her face. When our director Tre told us that Margaret (Maggie) Edson had replied to his email and agreed to Skype with us all, I thought he was pulling our leg. Why would a Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright want to Skype with a group of random actors in Shenzhen, China? Well, probably because she is one of the kindest, most down-to-earth people I have ever had the chance to meet (if meeting over Skype counts). For some reason when we think of someone famous who has won prestigious awards we more often than not assume that they have no interest in speaking to the little people (us). Why would we think in this way? As I ran into the room and plopped down on the floor, cross-legged, Maggie immediately greeted me and it was with real interest that she asked me questions, not just out of nicety. She remembered all of our names and she listened to our questions and thoughts intently. She seemed as happy as we were to have this unique opportunity to discuss her play and the production we put on of it. It felt like talking to an old friend, someone we had known our whole lives. Everything she said, regarding both the play and real life, really hit me hard. This woman is wise I tell you. So wise. I couldn’t stop smiling and nodding along with everything she said. And she is funny! I may have laughed a lot during the ninety minutes that we all chatted. Now I feel more inspired than ever and I wanted to share a few things that she talked to us about because I feel that these are things we all need to acknowledge.
Firstly, we need to slow down. I mean, really slow down. This is particularly important in our modern-day technology-fueled ‘go go go’ lifestyle. We never stop. We wake up, go to work, work all day, go home, sleep, and then we do it all again. We say ‘yes’ to everything. We fill up our schedules until they are positively bursting at the seams with both work and social engagements. It’s almost like we’re scared to stop, scared to stop ticking things off a list of never-ending activities. Why must we do something every single night after work? What’s wrong with going home, cooking a delicious meal, climbing into bed and reading until we drift into sleep? Nothing. There is nothing wrong with that, and yet still we inject our lives with such chaos, until before we know it, we are having an absolute meltdown. This is very true for Shenzhen. Living in such a young city filled with budding entrepreneurs, this city is our playground. We are the generation that has been put in charge of creating and developing the image and future of this baby city. And we don’t know when to stop. We can’t stop. We are addicted to accomplishing things. We work full-time, we party full-time and still, we are hungry for more. One more business plan, one more TV commercial, one more drink.
Well, this past weekend I realised enough is enough. After a magically-inspiring but busy week of performing ‘Wit’ every night, I decided that this weekend was ‘my’ weekend. I told the TV commercial people I needed to rest. I sold my ticket for the music festival I’d been so excited to attend. I ran to the supermarket and stocked up on all my favourite foods. I lit my candles and pulled out my fairy lights to create a more Christmasy mood. I played relaxing music, watched movies, read a lot. I didn’t go anywhere until Sunday night when it was time to Skype Maggie and it was probably the most relaxing weekend I’ve had in a long time. But I need to admit something…
I felt guilty. Should I have gone to the music festival even though I was tired and it was raining heavily? What about the TV commercial people? Had I let them down? Maybe I should be writing instead of watching movies? I better go outside and exercise a bit.
Those were the thoughts than ran through my mind continually. Then it struck me. Have we actually forgotten how to slow down, how to relax? What happened to us that made us want to accomplish so much? All I accomplished this past weekend was some much-needed rest, and let me tell you, I feel happier than ever. I woke up smiling. My skin has a glow again. My head isn’t so fuzzy and my heart feels inspired. Maggie told us that she currently has an elderly relative staying with her at the moment and she was intrigued to watch this older lady just doing nothing. Just sitting in an armchair with the cat on her lap. And yet, she looked so content. Content doing nothing. I believe that is something our generation have no idea how to do. We do yoga. We meditate. We sleep in on the weekends. But do we really ever fully relax? Is there a way that we could somehow remind ourselves that it is totally OK to just lie on our beds and stare into space. To sit against a tree in the park and read our books without having to run to catch a bus, a train. To engage in a real conversation with someone without checking our phones or letting our minds drift. Seriously, we need to revert back to a slower-paced life if we want to strive for what we’re all really looking for- that of happiness. We think that if we fast-track that new business of ours we’ll be happy. If we drown ourselves in a decade of debt just so we can have the latest, fanciest car we’ll have found what it is we’re looking for. Goals are gold. We should have goals. But they should not consume us to the extent that they do. As Maggie so kindly reminded us all yesterday, “you are more than your accomplishments.”
She is right. You, me, we are so much more than the sum amount of all that we’ve achieved in our lives so far. I am so proud of all that I’ve accomplished in my mere 28 years on this planet, and yet do you know what I am more proud of, or at least should be more proud of? Who I am. For being a kind, caring, compassionate human being. For always being honest and never harming anyone else. For being able to feel and in return, express these feelings, and for that making me who I am. For all my flaws and quirks, because they are unique to me. When I die one day (sorry, but come on, we all will die eventually. Wit reminded me of that, and we shouldn’t be scared), noone is going to remember me for the things I’ve accomplished, the gifts I bought them, the houses I owned, the countries I travelled to, the bicycle I rode. They are going to hopefully remember me because of the relationships I created and allowed to flourish. For being a real friend, an ear that was always ready to listen, a shoulder that was ready for any tears or laughter that came its way. For loving unconditionally and making people smile. For inspiring, if only for a second. These are the things I hope I am remembered for and the things you may also hope to be remembered by. Achieving amazing things in one’s life is awesome, but loving other human beings, laughing so hard you snort, watching little humans you brought into the world grow and blossom into big kind human beings, that is what matters. Relationships, with both yourself and others, and of course the world around you. Nurture those, instead of your greedy little materialistic desires.
Wit. A play that at first glance seems so full of arrogance and an overwhelming urge to want more knowledge, more recognition, is actually a play about kindness, about the human touch. Once you push all that 17th century metaphysical poetry aside and really engage with what is going on under all those complicated big words, you will notice a vulnerability, a gentleness that is buried within all of us. And sometimes it takes something like dying to let that out. Vivian Bearing is a professor who spends her life buried knee-deep in a pile of John Donne books. Then she gets cancer. And who is there to comfort her? Well, noone actually, because she spent so much time and energy on John Donne papers that she never truly formed a real relationship with another human being. Thank goodness for the character I played- Susie, the nurse, or we might have all left the theatre in an even bigger pile of tears. Susie brings that element of kindness back into Vivian’s world. It was always there, lurking in the shadows of all that poetry and philosophy, and yet she couldn’t quite see it. E.M Ashford (her professor in university, a wise, kind woman) tried to instil it in her, but in that moment all she cared about was gaining more knowledge.
Moral of the story? It’s perfectly OK to follow your path in life, to ignite that passion within you, but please never lose sight of who you really are- that of a human being with a heart made to love and spread kindness wherever it goes. When you’re on your death bed strive to spend your last days surrounded by the people you love and who love you back, because those thesis papers and contracts and business plans sure as hell won’t be keeping you company. That’s not to say that success in what you love isn’t important too, but it’s all about finding a balance. Sign that contract, but at the same time turn your phone off on sundays and take your kids out for ice-cream in the park. Hold meetings all day and write until your hands might fall off, but at night have dinner with your loved ones and really listen to what it is they’re saying. Slow down and enjoy all of those little moments because they are so much more meaningful than anything else will ever be. Those are the moments that will flash across your mind. The faces of your loved ones, the way they sounded when they laughed, the smell of lavender growing in your garden, the taste of birthday cake.
Thank you Maggie for not only writing an incredibly, insightful play that struck such a chord within us, that brought a diverse group of talented people together from all around the world, but also for reminding us that we are far more than our accomplishments add up to. We are human beings and we are capable of the most magical thing in the world- kindness.
Let’s all slow down, be kind and learn to really appreciate life again.