At least once every other day, my girlfriend and I sit down to watch a batch of The West Wing on DVD and experience genius. The first three and half years especially are pure gold, and even though the series did decline somewhat in the post-Aaron Sorkin/Thomas Schlamme/ Rob Lowe era into a more event-driven politics show, it has remained a firm favourite. In particular, I have always had a strong affection and affinity for Leo, the chief of staff, a father figure played by the amazing John Spencer. So I'm greatly saddened to hear that Spencer died recently.
But there's a little more to it than that for me on a personal level. I've always identified with this actor more because he reminds me of my father. There are some striking parallels. He was 58, my dad is 63. He was a recovering alcoholic as is my father. They're both actors, and they both have that post-AA way about them that can be inspiring and infuriating in equal measure. What was amazing about Spencer's portrayal of Leo was of course that he could bring so much of himself to the role (or so I believe) and in many ways the character seemed to be the most realistic portrait of a recovering alcoholic that I've ever seen.
The tragedy of it of course is that Spencer was only 58 when he died, and that frightens me for my own family. While change is inevitable and death comes to us all, we always want to think "not yet". We always want to stave off the inevitable present where things change irrevocably, but there is nothing that we can do to stop it. The challenge in change is not that it comes. We grow sick, our loved ones get killed in car crashes, our kids die of leukemia, we get AIDS, we lose a leg, we lose our financial worth. The challenge is how we deal with it.
In writing this post, I'm trying to write out my thoughts to understand what feels like an abstract loss and yet a personal one. John Spencer the actor, the man who lived in Los Angeles, meant very little to me. John Spencer the archetype who filled a heroic role in my daily life meant a lot. Mythology and story have always played that important role in our minds, and mine is no different. We relate to the media space as a mirror of ourselves, both in the news and in fiction, and this is why it matters to us so much. This is why there are outpourings of grief when symbols die (like Princess Diana).
So I've lost a symbol, and that makes me very sad. I've also felt the closeness of death in a strange way as it makes me reflect on what I have within my life, how my real-life Leo that is my father is important to me, and I don't want to lose him yet. It makes me reflect on the importance of the present (see previous post) and how this really is all that we have. In a year that has seen a lot of symbolic 'good' people die, this is a poignant and personal way for it all to end. And I do hope it is the end.
So, yes, I hope that Spencer rests in peace and found peace in his life. I hope that we can all find that sort of peace in our lives and find a means to become what we can be and what we are meant to be. I hope that we are all able to understand the challenge of change when it comes, and we can all live for today. AA teaches that living for each day is important, a faith in the wider picture is important, and the present is important.
Live in the present, my friends.
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