By Cameron Duckett ("Ferdinand" in The Tempest 2016)
She was sitting in the corner of the cozy Starbucks downtown, all by herself. We had never seen or met her before. All we had to go off of was the description in her email that humbly said, “I’m an OWL (i.e. Old White Lady).” We stood scanning the café until we spotted the “OWL”, sitting at a huge table she had reserved for all of us.
She sat behind her modest sized silver and light neon blue computer/tablet, typing away and staring into screen of her thoughts. You could tell while she was physically here (in the café) but mentally she was off in a world of her own. Maybe in preparation for our meeting? Or imagining what we looked like? Only she could know.
Her description of herself as being an “OWL” was extremely accurate, yet misleading as well. She looked to be around sixty or seventy years old but there was something younger and brighter emanating from her. Maybe “OWL” meant something else, but what could it be? She wore a casual outfit, blue jeans with a white shirt covered by a lighter, white gray sweater that matched her lovely gray hair. Yet, there was something else that truly marked her real age. On the back of the dark oak chair laid something that stood out against the rest of her appearance. Her raincoat. A black and white design of Polaroid pictures of the same man that resembled Andy Warhol, but was a hipster youth posing like him. Each of the photos on her jacket were different poses and faces of the same man but he was always wearing his cool, classic Ray Ban-esque sunglasses.
Why that raincoat?
We had expected it to be just a solid purple, black or white. It seemed like a statement in some language we hadn’t learned nor heard before in our lives. We had yet to meet anyone of that age who was able to stand in two different bodies of time, seemingly like a bridge plugging themselves nonchalantly into both generations.
She still didn’t notice us as we approached her, too engrossed in her unknown world of thoughts. She looked like a delighted child focusing on something serious to her, chiseling away at something that was getting very close but still needed to build the foundation before it could get any closer, her eyebrows furrowing as she eyed her screen.
Once we announced our presence to her, she immediately blinked rapidly a couple of times as she came back to Earth, to the café. She looked with delight into each of our faces, as if recognizing us as long time friends (though we had never met). She was getting up from her chair with excitement as we all prepared professionally, our hands sticking out as she approached us now. She closed in, completely ignoring our hands, and encircled each of us with an excited, humming hug and then (surprisingly to us all) a kiss on each cheek.
We stood there for a moment smiling. Simultaneously matching her delight but embarrassed, as we needed a moment to get back our bearings before starting our meeting, (and let the blood rush away from our burning cheeks.)
Who is this lady? We all thought to ourselves, tingled with curiosity, sitting down at the table.
We had come to meet her to discuss the great Shakespeare. She is in a Shakespeare reading group that meets every week to read his works. We were doing a production of his, The Tempest and she offered to meet with us to add any insights or answer any questions about the play.
She was coming into Seattle from Gig Harbor for a show she was seeing at the ACT Theatre later that night. She had arrived in Seattle early in the afternoon so we could talk to her for as long as we needed.
We had expected a worn-down scholar like person, with a monotone voice who pretentiously carried themselves around as if they knew everything Shakespearean when asked about it, as if they personally knew Shakespeare himself. As we talked to her about our show, from the research we had done, the idea of the characters in the play, the purpose of the play and our spin on it, she silently thinks. She politely listens to every word we say and frames any ideas she has for our show by saying in a respectful manner, “This is just an idea…” or “I like that. May I suggest something?”
She had so much knowledge; stored in copious subjects not just Shakespeare but life and time. Yet again, she didn’t hold this above us, as if we haven’t lived and had our share of experiences, she only gave reminders from her own experiences, a passing of a torch. We got on to the topic of learning and failing, where she began to tell us one of her insightful moments when we was taking figure skating lessons. The story revolved around her skating in the ring at four-thirty in the morning with her teacher. After she had completed a couple turns, the teacher made her lay down on her stomach, so she was level with the ice and could see the five marks her skates had left on the ice. As she looked over the marks, her teacher asked her, “what do you see wrong with this mark?” She answered. Then her teacher pointed to next mark and repeated the question and so on. For each mark, she gave the same reason why these marks were insufficient. (As she gets to the climax of the story, she puts the story on hold and checks in with us, giving her eyes that still hold a child-like wondrous spark in them). Her teacher then says to her, “If you’re going to make mistakes, make them different every time.” She concludes her story and gives a few seconds of silence to let her story sink into the air as we breathe it in. She was happy to have shared her knowledge and saw we listened to every word, obviously affected by her story. She then says jokingly, “people always get concerned and ask, ‘my god! The teacher did that to a little girl taking figure skating lessons?’ I respond back to them, ‘that was when I was thirty years old!’” She smiles at us and at her memory, now linked between us.
Thirty years old and taking figure skating lessons?
We think again, who is this lady?
She continues, “But that’s life, you know? It’s all about making different marks on the ice.” She nods, knowing she has been heard. Her reminder swirls around in our brains as we go over every mark on the ice we have ever made, and how many of those marks were the same ones repeated.
As we get pulled back to Shakespeare and The Tempest, her child-like wonder comes out again as she gets chased away by the topic of ice-skating blades. She says innocently, “It’s like ice-skating blades and how speed skates are different to hockey skates as to figure skates.”
She pauses. We say nothing and look to each other for support. Clearly none of us know the difference.
“Here. I’ll show you.” She willingly pulls out a legal pad and begins to draw the different blades, explaining the differences and their uses to us. We again sit and listen amazedly as she talks, both confused and warmed by her seemingly sudden insight. She has so much knowledge and like a maester librarian, she knows where each book is to be placed in the exact moment.
We continue discussing the show. She loves the ideas we have. When asked if she would like to come see the show, she jumps back in her chair, absolutely appalled by the invitation, as her eyes widen and jaw drops. Then, still shockingly leaning in the back of her chair, exclaims excitingly “are you kidding me?!” accepting the invitation in the same context as, “Duh!” or “uh…yeah, of course! Why would I say no?”
We all laugh, each of our exhales adds their own spark that accumulates and combines to make the campfire on the table, feeling the warmth from each other as we now inhale it.
Who is this lady?
How can she be older and younger than all of us at the same time? Like she has the knowledge of a sage in a beginning apprentice’s body.
We conclude with our meeting, gathering our things, preparing to get to rehearsal later that day, inspired by her insights as they marinate in our minds. She begins to tell us one more thing about herself: She is a minister and has done countless marriages, of all kinds (she doesn’t discriminate). Love is love is her philosophy view with marriage and life. She can hold a constricting traditional job with seemingly contradicting new age views; she is willingly able to modernly morph the two. Yet, to her there isn’t any “morphing” because she sees time through her timeless lens of, love is love, we learn this as she continues sharing. The topic of love leads her to tell us about her husband. While we have rehearsal to go to, there is something triggered in her so powerfully enchanting, we all stop and continue to listen mesmerized to her stories, her memories, her gold.
She tells us when she was going through chemo years ago. There were countless nights where she only stared at the ceiling at night, so tired she couldn’t sleep. So naturally, her husband aided his support… by offering that they go around the town and tag walls. This elderly couple literally went around the town and tagged walls. They were together, young at heart. This woman has battled and beaten cancer, yet she doesn’t look like what you might expect from a cancer survivor, externally and/or internally permanently scarred or worn-down, but more reborn with joy and energy. Her face lights up all over again, as she is transported back to those alleyways, the sounds and smells of spray cans hitting the cement walls, alongside her partner in crime, the person she loved most.
Sadly, her husband passed away a few years ago. She gets still with seriousness as she tells us. However, she doesn’t get go inside herself to hide the pain or tell us how difficult it was at first. She smiles and says, “He may be gone literally, but he is still with me. He is here all around me, in everything, all the time.” Her face shines again, another reminder that people may be gone but never forgotten.
We ask if she has any pictures of him, getting sucked into her story once more, as if time doesn’t matter or even exist. She does and shows us a picture of him standing, smiling with a huge grin towards the camera. In his right hand he holds a small, bright orange squirt gun with his finger around a sunny lemon yellow trigger. He stands posed James Bond-esque, childishly grinning at the camera with his “pistol” pointed toward the ceiling. She gives us the reason as we confusedly look at the picture, trying to figure out why she showed us this picture. “This was from a family reunion. It was the older people versus the younger people, and you want to know something, WE won!” She points out distinctively with youthful pride, almost like a kid sharing their favorite toy for share and tell. She is quiet for a moment before going to the next picture, staring at him, taking a moment to thank him for the story and moment in time.
Who is this wonderful lady?
She shows us her favorite picture, saying, “This is the picture I show people when they ask to see us together. I feel this picture best represents us and our connection to each other.” We expect a picture of them holding each other at a party holding drinks, smiling at the camera or their wedding photo from years ago, both facing the camera, joy spread out on each of their faces as they exist together.
The picture is from a wedding, but not theirs. They also aren’t even looking at the camera. They stand together, backs to the camera, with her head resting on his right shoulder as the golden, cool blue evening sky expands and closes around them. She tells us that this was taken on a boat from a friend of theirs’ wedding. They didn’t realize that they were being photographed. The purity of this captured moment between them brings warming wonder and appreciation as she silently looks over the picture, again saying thank you.
We now say our goodbyes; we must be getting to rehearsal. However, we will be seeing her again soon. We enjoyed her impute and ideas so much, we ask her if she wants to come to one of our rehearsals. She immediately says yes. The idea of her kind, joyous being around everyone in the play sounds wonderful and with her Shakespearean knowledge on top of that, how could we say no?
We leave the café through a different door than when we first entered, waving goodbye to her one last time. As we walked to the car, we were all excited for rehearsal, ready to work and create more. We couldn’t help but share our insights we learned from the wise “OWL” we just met. She had so much knowledge and she so willingly shared it with us. Yet, that wasn’t fully it. There was something even bigger than her knowledge she shared with us. Her love. Through her love she had found a part of herself in all of us and had shared her stories to reveal those parts. A love for knowledge, love for learning, love for sharing, love for time, love for memories and a love for meeting new people. We left inspired from her contagious wisdom of love she had given to us, and now it spread from each of us unto one another; continuing the cycle (we now realized) lying within us all.