Endings Affirm Meaning

An ending knows what it does. It also knows what it means.

An ending forces one to divorce the beautiful. It brutally parts the ways with an uncomfortable finality. An ending sees the past clearly. Perhaps too clearly for comfort. And that is why an ending brings tears, regrets, wishes, and what-might-have-beens.

But an ending knows what it does. And it knows what it means.

If it means a lot. If it hurts beyond what you want to admit, you can be assured of one thing: it was good.

As tears fall, they fall for one reason: there was once something worth crying for. The absence of tears doesn’t necessitate happiness. It could just as well mean that bland life has nothing to awaken the emotions within you. Likewise, the presence of tears does not necessitate pain or loss. It could just as well mean a realization of blessing which is no more. A thankful cry which pronounces growth and understanding. A thankful  heart which acknowledges the shifting of time painting the past in static form slightly out of reach.

But they are nothing to be feared. Endings, that is. Should be embraced. Every tear, every wish, every desire, every difficult step it takes to walk away should be embraced. It is better to walk away from happiness than to run away from adversity. The happiness will sit forever on your heart with memories and experiences that push you one step further in your walk.

I’m thankful for the endings in my life. This is how I know I’m alive. This is how I know that meaning exists. When living in the absence of that which you love, you understand how real the love really was.

 

 

Good Friday: Dead is Dead

Good Friday is the penultimate day for Christians around the world. It’s a reminder that the first day of the week is coming, the day that brings hope, the day that brings faith. But I’m sure the first Good Friday didn’t feel like it was a penultimate day, waiting for another reveal. Not, it would have had an air of finality about it. After all, dead is dead. Or is it?

To commemorate this Good Friday, I’d like to share with you a short play I wrote for a Good Friday service last year, simply entitled “Dead is Dead”.


 

Characters

Jabez, husband of Naarah, follower of Jesus

Naarah, wife of Jabez, follower of Jesus

Daughter, of Jabez and Naarah

Roman Soldier

Setting: At their home in Jerusalem the day after the crucifixion of Jesus.

 

Jabez is sitting eating some bread, giving it to her child. Child runs off to the side of the stage and is playing in the dirt. The Jabez is standing in a contemplative pose.

 

NAARAH: Do you want something to eat? (He shrugs it off.) I remember the first time I saw him. He had a single loaf of bread in his hand. (in thought) On the hillside. The crowd was massive, and I pushed my way in. I was just curious, nothing else.

JABEZ: Curiosity is better left alone unless you want a dagger in your heart.

NAARAH: I refuse to believe it was all for nothing.

JABEZ: It doesn’t matter what you believe when yesterday is still seared into our memory. We saw it with our own eyes, and that’s the end of it.

(The girl runs up from behind and tugs on the arm of her papa.)

GIRL: Papa, papa. Come here. Come here.

NAARAH: But it doesn’t make any sense. How can it be finished? There’s more to it than just yesterday. Our eyes have seen things, and you know it. It’s not like the first unbelievable thing we saw was yesterday.

GIRL: Papa, papa.

JABEZ: (gruffly to girl) Not now. Can’t you see your mother and I are in a conversation? (The girls runs off and starts digging and playing in the dirt off the side of the stage.) Why did I let you drag me into this?

NAARAH: Don’t blame your lack of faith on me.

JABEZ: Faith is now the last thing we need. We have given everything for him. And now what are we going to do? We’ll be outcasts. That bread in your hand might be some of the last you’ll ever have.

NAARAH: Stop it.

JABEZ: How could we have been so foolish?

NAARAH: I came to you and told you what I saw. That’s all. The rest was your decision.

JABEZ: And what exactly did you see? Perhaps your heart was a little too emotionally involved to see things objectively.

NAARAH: I’m not going to let your bitterness cloud my vision. I was on that hillside, and he took that loaf of bread and a small fish and fed thousands with them. Emotion doesn’t fill an ox cart full of bread. Tears have never multiplied fish. It happened, and you know it happened. Because you saw what he did for the blind beggar. (He turns away disgusted.) Don’t turn away from me. You know what I’m talking about. How many times did you pass him in the streets as he sat near the well in his ragged clothes? And you saw the rabbi heal him. I know it. I saw the faith in your eyes when you came home that day.

JABEZ (emotion) Where is faith now? Nailed to a bloody, wooden cross.

(The daughter comes back over to him.)

GIRL: (pulling on his arm) Papa! Come over here and look.

JABEZ: Not now!

(Daughter walks away again.)

NAARAH: It may not all make sense, but I refuse to believe it was all for nothing.

JABEZ: Yes, I saw with these very eyes what he did to the blind beggar, and I can’t explain it. But those same eyes witnessed something very different yesterday. Stop blinding yourself with reckless faith. Stop seeing what you only want to see. He’s gone.

NAARAH: But perhaps …

JABEZ: Dead is dead. It’s no different if he had fallen into a well or been bit by a viper or the Roman Legion sliced off his head. Either way, dead is dead, and we’d both be much better off if we can admit that fact. Jesus of Nazareth is dead. And life doesn’t come from death.

GIRL: Papa …

JABEZ: Not now!

GIRL:  Someone’s coming.

(He looks and sees a Roman soldier coming at him quickly.)

ROMAN:  Jabez!

(Jabez tries to run, but knocks into his daughter who falls to the ground. He stops to pick her up and Naarah comes to get the girl as the soldier punches Jabez to the ground.)

I should slice you here, and I would if it were up to me.

(Standing over him with a sword to his throat.)

JABEZ: What have I done?

ROMAN: Your neighbors have let it be known that your household was part of the rebellious movement of Jesus of Nazareth.

JABEZ: Please don’t hurt my family.

ROMAN: I am here to make one thing perfectly clear, and let the pointed edge of my sword re-enforce it. The governor of Judaea will crush anyone who perpetuates rumors or prophecies about the Nazarene. He is dead, and all thoughts of rebellion are buried in his corpse, or the likes of you will be buried alongside him. Do I make myself understood?

JABEZ: Yes.

ROMAN: Stand to your feet. (Jabez slowly stands) I just need to make sure you understand.

(He smacks him twice and Jabez staggers to the other side of the stage and falls on his face near the place the girl had been playing. Naarah and the girl are crying, and they go to his side.)

ROMAN: I think we understand each other now.

(The soldier exits.)

NAARAH: Jabez. Are you all right? Oh, God our father help us. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of God. Jabez. He’s gone. It’s okay. He’s gone. Are you all right?

JABEZ: No matter what happened yesterday, I’m not going to let Roman tyranny rip the faith out of me.

NAARAH (smiling) No, I suppose you wouldn’t.

GIRL: Papa, I want you to see something. Look! (She points out to a place in front of them.) The olive seeds we planted. Remember, you said they were no good. But look, they are sprouting, papa!

(He looks out on the plants and reaches for them.)

JABEZ: That’s impossible. I stopped watering those a month ago.

NAARAH: Look at them!

(Jabez starts laughing.)

JABEZ: A miracle in the desert. Life indeed coming from death.

(Holding on to each other.)

Maybe we should wait and see what tomorrow will bring.

 

Happy Valentines Day from Prince Casimir

Happy Valentines Day! Here’s the ever romantic Prince Casimir from one of my favorite plays – “The Secrets of the Magic Pool” – with some prodding from Majji, telling the Princess how he feels about her. I miss this cast and crew so much. It was so much fun. Here’s hoping Casimir gets you in the mood for the day!

CASIMIR

              You really are a foolish girl.

PRINCESS

As is often said, foolish girls are chased by foolish boys.

CASIMIR

Then I am a fool. The most complete fool for love who has ever existed.

(He takes her hand. She turns away from him in embarrassment.)

PRINCESS

I heard you were leaving.

CASIMIR

Perhaps. If I do have to leave, will you miss me?

PRINCESS

                (coyly)

Oh, I suppose, a little.

CASIMIR

Literally a little? Like a grain of sand? Or a little like an understatement, like the summer would miss warm evening air or like the sea would miss the cadence of the tide? Which is it?

PRINCESS

If you must go…

CASIMIR

I must. And I know exactly how much I shall miss you. I shall miss the complexion of your skin, a gentle pale hue, the envy of every heavenly sky. I shall miss your ruby lips, as soft and moist as a droplet of morning dew on the petal of a ruby-red rose.I shall miss the sound of your voice – how it echoes my heart’s yearning. How I long to hear just one phrase roll sweetly off your tongue into my ears. It’s all my heart desires.

PRINCESS

                (getting flustered)

What phrase is that?

CASIMIR

The same phrase I’ve been trying to tell you for a long time.

PRINCESS

And what phrase is that?

CASIMIR

The same phrase that Antony said to Cleopatra.

(Majji is sneaking back in and eavesdropping.)

PRINCESS

And what phrase is that?

CASIMIR

The same phrase that—

MAJJI

                (Majji quickly stands up and yells.)

I love you!

(pauses awkwardly for a moment)

Would you two just say it?

jstef-apr2016-2703

A Vigil for a Starry (Christmas Eve) Night

A Vigil for a Starry (Christmas Eve) Night

On a night when the clouds cover the stars like an impenetrable mountain cliff, I wait for a sign. A small tinge up my spine. A desperate plea for the ancient ways to speak once again. I wait for the light, hoping it will come, hoping it will be enough. .

The stars, spread brightly out like colored snowflakes flickering across the onyx sky, reflect a distant constellation, and begin to re-enter the atmosphere, piercing through the fractured clouds, giving faint and distant light to the voidless black, the empty sea, the sandless desert, the vacant abyss that is deep within me. The light, hushed and dimmed by a millennium of travel, is all I have. Is all I ever had.

I wait for the reflection to reach me, hoping one refracted beam from a star long ago still exists, the same ancient light that awakened the shepherd’s eyes one cool and lonely night. Can the light that ushered in a new millennium, awaken a new epoch within me. If so, it might be enough for my heart to go on.

In the midst of tears, in the solitude of our inner being, we yearn to be on that impoverished hill, to understand the magnitude of that sight, a heavenly light illuminating a darkened heart, a heavenly chorus rising to a crescendo of glory.

Will I choose to believe its truth, not blindly though because I know what the light can do for one’s soul.  And though the unbearable pain releases not its grip, I have a question to answer. Does the light still exist for me?

Does the same sky, which God ripped open that night with his right hand, planting angelic heralds of peace on the clouds to rustle awake the shepherds, still exist for me? Can he reach into my clouded heart and announce the truth like a heavenly chorus? If it is so, all suffering and cause of angst still present throughout the world will be no match for the blessed announcement: “A Child is born.”

PERSON: This child is born.

I Wrote This Last Night

I wrote this last night. No particular reason, and I’m not even sure what it means. But I kind of like it. I’m thinking folk-rock.

Vagabonds of Mercy   by  Mark W. Sasse

Ghostly kin collared high and smart, rolling out till we hit the dawn,

Pardoned souls with sing-song hearts, Hit the road until they reach the dawn

And the shadows cover field and vale, where it spreads it’s really hard to tell

As we brace for impact from the eastern gale, remember truth is the hardest sell

 

A girl in jeans and a ragged smile, waves a knife at the quarter mile

I duck my head from her pensive sight, but the battered soul gives up the fight

Proffered dreams, deferred hearts, testing limits with spare parts,

But the mileage wanes around the bend, when you’re headed home and then back again

 

Chorus:

And the vagabonds always know where they’re going,

Cause the road welcomes everyone who floats on the wings of the sun

And the vagabonds always know who they’re traveling with

Cause they understand more than most the feeling of Judas’ kiss

 

 

Part of the reason I joined this quest, was to get something off my chest.

I understand your hesitation, but I really need your participation.

Mercy ends in the empty void when shattered dreams lay half-destroyed

But walking men and talking girls, know the dance of the underworld

 

And those who dare to reach inside, might find release on the other side

But those who laugh at the high employed …

 

May find the lost key

May say a quick prayer

May join the party

Of the unaware

 

Chorus:

And the vagabonds always know where they’re going,

Cause the road welcomes everyone who floats on the wings of the sun

And the vagabonds always know who they’re traveling with

Cause they understand more than most the feeling of Judas’ kiss

 

Don’t let the night take you.

Don’t let the light break you.

Don’t let the fight leave you.

Don’t let the might beat you.

 

Chorus:

And the vagabonds always know where they’re going,

Cause the road welcomes everyone who floats on the wings of the sun

And the vagabonds always know who they’re traveling with

Cause they understand more than most the feeling of Judas’ kiss.

Way Cool Pictures of Hanoi & Its Rare Statue of Liberty! (and an Excerpt)

I came across these amazing and rare photos of the famous Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi from the time of French Colonialism. And to my astonishment, they had an actual French-made replica of the Statue of Liberty. Look at these cool photos from the turn of the 19th century. Rare Photos

This lake and I have a lot of history. Hanoi is my old stomping grounds. Used to ride bicycles then motorbikes around that lake many-many-numerous-too-many-to-count times. There was no Statue of Liberty at that time. The French were roundly defeated in 1954 and who knows what actually happened to the statue. That lake is the heart-and-soul of Hanoi. On any given morning or evening, thousands of Hanoians are out and about doing a myriad of activities and …  you know what? I’ve written about this. Here’s my description of the lake from my first novel, “Beauty Rising.” Enjoy!

————————–Excerpt from “Beauty Rising” ————————————

We crossed the street and started walking around the edge of the lake. People were everywhere doing everything. A group of old men sat under a lamp post playing Chinese chess. A steady stream of joggers weaved their way through the commotion. A group of boys carrying wooden boxes approached every foreigner asking if they wanted a shoe shine. Couples snuggled close on benches gazing at the lake, perhaps hoping for a turtle sighting. Sellers balanced a scale-like bamboo contraption over their shoulders hawking exotic fruit and freshly baked baguettes while others sold toothbrushes, toiletries, and toothpicks. One small boy tagged along with our threesome halfway around the lake imploring us to buy a pack of Wrigley’s gum from him. The chaos overwhelmed my senses, and I became entranced by the ceaseless action and the unrelenting flow of people. Every few seconds I saw that girl, the one I had clung on to, the one who stole from me, the one with the innocent face and the smooth skin. The one that nearly smiled at me. There she went again and again. Every thin face, every curved body, every long-haired girl looked identical to her. I wished the girl, whom I had held in my tight grip, had smiled at me. What would I have done? My dad knew what to do when a girl smiled at him. I was not like my dad.
Magical. My heart stood squarely in a magical place. I could feel the swelling of my hands and the lump in my throat. This is Vietnam. This is where my dad left his soul. This is where the girl smiled at him. This is where my dad will remain forever.

Monologue #2: A Battle Cry

Here’s the second monologue added to the PAGES on the right of my site.

In my play “Life with Stewart”, Nicholas Stewart, an aged Hollywood movie star, is asked to deliver again his famous speech as the unforgettable protagonist Wellesly Green from the movie “Surrender has no Tomorrow”. (Of course, all of this is fictional.)  So imagine a staggering figure, clad in battle gear, trying to rally his comrades to continue fighting against insurmountable odds in order to stave off certain death. Here is the monologue in its entirety.

NICHOLAS STEWART:

Character.  That is what stands between us and our destiny.  Each of us has sacrificed much to arrive at this point; the battered souls we are would give up the fight if it was merely up to us. If we were only flesh and blood, only here and now, only eyes and ears, surely we would not insist on pushing forward. For our eyes witness odds that our hearts cannot derive courage from.  Our ears hear not any reassurance to continue fighting, but only weakness and bickering, coming from our tired, cowardly jaws –  the ones we earned by witnessing too much death and experiencing too much despair.  Yes, our eyes and ears reveal how human we have become, how cold our flesh feels, and how much colder our blood may soon be.  But history reminds us that we are not only flesh and blood.  We are not only here and now.  We are not only eyes and ears.  We are made of more, much more.  Time has poured its tired hands into our being, strengthening us with wisdom gleaned from a thousand souls who came before us.  Those who knew us and loved us.  Those we never knew but influenced the mechanisms of support that we have come to live by.  Our character has been built by the sacrifices of these and others who lived their lives and suffered their deaths for our survival. If we extinguish the flickering flame of hope that the winds of fear are ferociously trying to snuff out, then we are not worthy to be called the sons or daughters of the ones that came before us.  As the poet Asophie said, “When a pebble dropped in a vast sea splashes beyond its capacity, crashing barriers that were never meant to be crossed, all that one is left with is the realization that the pebble was no small stone and the causality is no one’s fault but your own.”  If we die, then we shall be at fault.  If we live, then we too shall be the cause of that.  As for me, I choose life.  What choose you?