He was my thesis advisor and it was a long time ago – a time when a professor could pull a knife on a student, to illustrate a point, and get away with it.
She was playing the title role in an adaptation of Sophocles’ tragedy, Antigone, by Jean Anouilh. I was the director, and he was trying to get her to… realize the gravity of the situation? Be more afraid? Act better? But we weren’t in rehearsal. We had run into each other outside the Student Union building on a bright, sunny April day.
“It’s not death you fear,” he told her, as we stood at the entrance, smiling cooperatively. “It’s something else.” And he took out his pocket knife, opened it, and held it to her abdomen. In broad daylight. On campus. With people walking past us.
“What are you thinking about now? Dying? No. You’re thinking about something immediate, you’re thinking about the knife, the pain that this knife is going to cause.”
I don’t know. I got distracted by his method of persuasion, but maybe he was right. Pain really sucks and maybe dying is too theoretical when it comes right down to it. It’s the lead up to the dying that concerns us all. It’s the way we die that matters most. And actors should know these things.
Pain woke me yesterday morning – sharp surprising pain – and I could not sleep for pain tonight. Which is why I was unexpectedly transported back to my Graduate School years under the tutelage of a complete lunatic.
As the night travels toward the dawn, I tire and expect to sleep without giving in to the temptation to swallow oblivion. This pain is temporary. The body recreates itself after alteration. Pain is to be expected. It’s a process. So I lean into it and hope for the best.
Antigone. A girl who defied a king, her uncle, because he would not bury her brother. It was the right thing to do.
What did Antigone fear? Death or pain?
I’m thinking neither.
The featured image is Saturn’s moon Enceladus by Cassini/NASA.