Friday, August 31, 2012

Our Friend Vince

Our friend Vince died suddenly of a heart attack on Tuesday.  His passing sent shockwaves through our artistic community. 

 Vince and I were friends, though I didn't get to know him nearly as well as I would've liked.  But over the course of twenty years bouncing around Decatur, performing at the same events, we struck up a friendship, and for the few and far between times I got to spend with him, I am grateful.

I had the honor of being asked to speak at the Celebration of Vince's Life today.  Many people were kind enough to ask if I would post what I had written somewhere on the internet.  I can think of no better place than here.  No better time than now.  No better sentiment to capture what Vince's life was about than the name of this blog:  "Enjoy Every Sandwich".  He taught so many of us to embrace all that gives us joy, to celebrate gratitude, to take life a little less seriously.

So, here are my thoughts on what makes Vince such a unique soul:

I’ve known Vince for over twenty years. Over that time, we shared conversations on everything from Buddhahood to parenthood.  

I most enjoyed the times we talked about some of the earmarks of good comedy.  The first rule of comedy is, of course, “always leave ‘em wanting more.”  Well played, Vince.  That’s exactly what you’ve done.

Another earmark of comedy is the use of ‘contradiction’.  Two dissimilar forces - a paradoxical cocktail -  coming together to ignite sparks, an unexpected synergy that surprises and delights.

In essence, that was Vince.  

A man with the nose of a clown, and the heart of a poet.

A man who could embody Groucho Marx and Chico Marx onstage, and then after the show, share his insights about Karl Marx. 

A nice Catholic boy who saw himself as a gnostic humanist, chauffeuring a bouncing baby Buddha on his scooter.  

A man who went to children’s cancer wards and used something called devil sticks to entertain angels-in-waiting.  

Nothing was foreign to Vince:  Shakespeare, Bogosian, commedia, puppetry, ukelele, the konzertina, juggling, improvisation.  One of his favorite quotes came from Kinky Friedman, who said, “"It's the curse of being multitalented. No one takes you seriously." 

But Vince took all of it seriously, and none of it seriously.  He recognized the folly and the beauty.

Another of his favorite quotes - and I think it’s in the program - actually comes from “American Beauty” when Lester Burnham said:

... it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life... 

I take great comfort in knowing that Vince really believes this.  That’s why I know he squeezed a century’s worth of living out of 44 years.  That’s why I find it’s nearly impossible to speak of him in the past tense.  Because his life is defined by being ever-present.    Ever present onstage, ever present with Giovanni, ever present when uplifting his audience, whether it was a roomful of adults or one boy who knew he was never going to get to leave the hospital. Ever ever present in that holiest of moments, which is always this one.  

Vince knows something that the rest of us may very well spend the rest of our days coming to terms with.  And that is, while some of us are called to be artists, and some are not, all of us are expected to treat our lives as an art form.  It is our aria, our three act play, our unceasing Rumi poem to give back to a world that graces us with enough beauty to make our hearts burst.

And that was the business that Vince was in.  He called himself a polytropic idea man, but in fact, he was in the beauty business.  Helping people find it, through wilted flowers that came to life with a child’s breath, through laughter sparked by the silent physicality of a Chaplin-esque clown, through the sardonic wit of a puppet aptly named Trickster.  

 Vince saw the beauty around him and has helped others - too blinded by sadness and distractions and the mundanity of life - to see that beauty too.  And now, Vince invites us to do the same with the art that is our lives. 

I leave you with two quotes from Vince’s 13th century Muslim poet friend Rumi, who calls on us on Vince’s behalf. He said, “Do not grieve.  Anything you lose comes round in another form.” 

 Rumi also said, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

Whatever wounds we feel today, and they are many and they are deep and they are worthy of our grief, it is our job to let the accompanying light in, and then carry that light forward.  Vince’s light.  It’s his gift to us, and it now must become our gift to this world.   

Because... it's hard to stay sad, when there's so much beauty in the world.

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