‘Theater is the filling up of time and space,” my teacher Rolando Tinio declared, discussing an activity he loved in its most simple form. The stage is the space and what you do on it your every movement, every word spoken, every silence and pause, every emotion is played out in a span of time by the performers. This is a great description of theater and performance, and it may well be an apt metaphor for life itself.
The space is the world we live in, including the geographic and emotional locations we find ourselves in as we show up for everyday life. And time is, well, our entire lifespan. Perhaps the main difference between theater and life is proportion. A great theatrical performance where time and space are filled up majestically with a great story and a convincing dramatic depiction may seem “bigger than life” as the expression goes, but it will always be dwarfed by the largeness of real life playing out. An average lifetime, after all, is longer than a two- to three-hour performance and is “performed” in multiple locations. And everyday life, though not as packed with dramatic content every two hours or so, surely has its share of drama that we take part in and generate.
Then there is also the script. In theater, it is vital for a performer to know the script and relate to it on various levels to be able to give a decent performance. In real life, there is a starting script that you inherit your personal circumstances that are your givens parents, race, nationality, economic and social status, religion, genes and physical characteristics, etc. At any time, you have the choice to follow this script or dump it and create a new one as you go.
Life is an open-ended performance where you are the scriptwriter, director, actor and if you develop enough of an interior life, you may also be the audience and critic/reviewer all rolled into one.
When life seems aimless or when I am bored or stuck between life’s stages, levels, journeys or meanings, I worry about how time is slipping away. Look at old picture albums, or hang out with classmates you’ve known forever, or listen to retro music and you will understand what I mean. What were once new, current, young and fresh are now rendered quaint, old, irrelevant and useless by time.
As the years go by, I notice how short life really is. Years can pass almost with the blink of an eye, and before you know it, it could all be over.
I recently had a conversation with an old friend whom I had always known to be super active. He liked to travel, go diving in the ocean, sky dive, climb mountains and engage the great outdoors. He sucked the marrow of life’s adventures, so to speak. He was, after all, a former Green Beret, the elite corps of the US military. He was one of those guys that is tough, trained to do anything and everything, and he did. The last time we talked was years ago. Now 72, he has slowed down a bit due to health problems.
When I asked him if he still went diving, he looked at me and said that he has pretty much lost his appetite for such physical activities. I know he is still physically fit to do them, though on a more moderate basis, but he said it was a case of “been there, done that.” He is done. The thrill has gone.
While I am far from wanting a limited engagement with life, I can relate to my friend’s need to prioritize what he would like to do with his time. After all, at 72, he has less time to do it all. If he cannot totally plan his life and choose only worthwhile activities, he can make sure that everything he does is a meaningful pursuit and not a waste of time. And he can do this by being present and paying attention to whatever is going on around him.
Now, more than ever, I give greater thought and sincere responses to questions about life’s meaning, the true relevance of activities and issues that come up in everyday life, the value of the people I meet, and questions that matter outside the field of space and time. This mindset opens an avenue so wide it makes living exciting. The onset of age and its diminishing prospects, especially time-wise, can open us up to the possibility that the greater part of our being may be its link to the timeless and borderless, or the eternal.
If you seek meaning in what you do, choose your activities and link them to values, causes and truths that will outlive you. Those actions will constitute time well spent on life’s stage. Time and effort such as these do not only define and depict a life well-lived while performing on life’s transient stage, they defy time itself as the greatness of your life lingers long after your performance has ended.
It is making every moment a shot at eternity. When one’s life’s performance has ended, people will still be talking about how extraordinary it was.