In Texas, after the waiter brings my salad, I hear a guy at the table behind me talking to a young woman about a movie. He’s listing all the movie stars who appear in this particular flick and, when he says, “Philip Seymour Hoffman,” my mind catches on the name, the same way the jagged edge of the loose setting on the ring on my finger often catches the inside of my knit glove. I should do something about that, I think, each time I find myself trying to wriggle my hand free from the glove.
“He passed away, didn’t he?” asks the woman. And I wonder what it means to her. It doesn’t sound like she’s sure, but I am. I am as sure as I can be about a thing. I was at home, watching the Seahawks run a clinic on the Broncos, and I was scrolling through the posts on Facebook because the game was less than stellar, when there it was: a Facebook status update, mourning the loss of PSH. Early reports say he died with a needle in his arm.
That news shakes me more than the Super Bowl shook the Broncos fans. More than listening to the guy on the radio the next day, raking Peyton Manning over the coals, for my entire one-hour drive to the airport in Omaha. There will be other Super Bowls. There will be an off-season, and the viewing of tapes, and the building of strategies, and there will be physical conditioning.
In the Denver airport, I stand in line at Panda Express and text my son: “Just can’t stop thinking about Philip Seymour Hoffman. Man! I will miss him!” It’s not that I knew him, or anything. I respected him. I appreciated his craft. I admired his work as an actor. He was one of the best, if you ask me. A few days earlier, H and I watched Mission: Impossible III and marveled at Philip Seymour Hoffman’s acting. We’d both said it: “He’s such a good actor!” He was.
“Yeah,” my son texted back. “Vices get everyone.”
My son is a filmmaker, living in New York City. When he first started talking about going to film school and working in “the industry” (not his words) people said things like, “Oh, good! We need Christians in Hollywood!” But, here’s the thing: there are Christians in Hollywood. And, even if there weren’t, we Christians sure do expect a lot of each other.
“Damn them,” I texted back. And I don’t mean to be offensive here. Really, I don’t. But I do wish we could damn the vices to hell. In the actual, literal meaning of those words.
“Yeah,” my son said. “People weren’t meant to be famous.”
By now, I was sitting in the airport, at a counter by myself, my Panda Express Firecracker Chicken and veggies in a styrofoam container with three compartments, steaming up at me. I stared at the phone in my hand, the text from my son settling me down and making my pulse beat more slowly. He was right. People weren’t meant to be famous. But we keep insisting on it any way.
“It’s too much,” I tell my son. “We’re too small for it, or something.”
“Always looking for gods,” he answered.
Sometimes, a few people make it out. Sometimes, they get the best of their vices. But we are never free of them. Not a single one of us. And when we start thinking there are people who are more deserving or more together or more holy than we may be, we’ve got it wrong. All wrong. But let’s not flip the script and start thinking there are people who are less deserving or less together or less holy than we may be, either. Who appointed us judge?
For better or worse, we are all in the same boat, here. We don’t have all the answers. Don’t let anyone fool you. We get some things right, it’s true. But we don’t get it all right. Not every time. No matter how famous (or infamous), we have addictions and we’ve had abortions and we’ve been abused and we are the abusers and we are this way because we are human. If we miss this point, or skip over it, or try to airbrush it or sweep it under the rug, we’ve missed more than just this point. Because the crazy thing is this: none of it surprises God, or makes him want to break up with us. He’s with us for the long haul. For eternity.
At the restaurant, I’m sitting on the patio, a tree wrapped in Christmas lights by my side. I follow the lights, up, up, up, and it’s this arching of my neck, my throat exposed to the heavens, eyes raised to the sky, that always makes me remember my grandmother saying, “Keep looking up.”
She was right, I think to myself, every time I do it. Every time I arch my neck to gaze up at the sky, I gain perspective.
We are small, here. Not really famous at all; even if we are. There are Christians in Hollywood. There are people, everywhere, doing the very best we know how to do, while carrying around these beautiful bodies of ours. It is the very best thing. Really, it is.