Musings of an Irish-American

Sometimes I think about stuff, and then I write it here…

Tag Archives: It’s A Wonderful Life

mercy

It’s been a rather emotional few days, what with having our closing weekend of It’s A Wonderful Life, a friend surprising me from out of town with hugs and smiles and the joyful anticipation of the Advent season into the quickly approaching Christmas.

I was on a training call with Michael Bernoff and the Core Strength Leadership team recently when he reflected back to me some of the strengths I have that I really wasn’t giving myself credit for. For all intents and purposes, I was taking for granted the fact that I work very well with other people, I’m willing to answer the call and say “yes” when the opportunity arises and I have a great propensity for thinking on my feet and rolling with the punches. It was part of a great exercise where we were taking “inventory” of what we have to give us strength and momentum into the new year.

Fast forward to today, when I woke up far later than I had planned and, despite not feeling great and not being in top form with my voice, I decided to crash Book of Mormon Equity auditions since they were in town. I did what I could (which in this case was, to some extent, sound strained and forget my lyrics; such is life haha) and then I was lucky enough to be able to have lunch with my friend Marshall, who I just closed Wonderful Life with. We had a great time talking about what we were working on in our lives, regaling stories of lessons we’ve learned in our experiences, and sharing a lot of laughs of some of the foibles we’ve gone through. I really treasure the time I’m able to personally share with people, especially the ones who have such life and vitality about them that I’ve attracted into my life these days. After that, I dropped Marshall off at his place and went to visit my family; I found out while I was visiting with them that some of them were planning on going to Confession at the local Catholic Basilica.

I realized that, in this reflective Advent season, I had not yet gone to Confession; the last time I had gone was during Lent (the precursor to Easter). So I decided to take the opportunity to join them in this important rite of my personal faith. When I stepped into the Basilica, I was overtaken by the presence I experienced; there was just a glorious silence that surrounded me. It reminded me of how noisy our lives can get, especially when we have so many obligations and events in a time of year like this, and how calming it can be to take time to remove yourself from that and be reflective for a period of time.

During the course of my own confession, I shared some of my own personal frustration with how my life has been progressing on some level. I know that I have made a lot of progress in the last few years, though I also experience a sense that I may not be doing enough. It was at this point that the priest I was sharing this with reflected back to me that that frustration was coming out of my own sense of compassion and the fact that, in some way, I was not being merciful with myself. “Mercy begins at home,” he said to me. It was then I realized what he meant; I was forgetting the many varied and amazing ways that I can (and do) contribute to the world around me, and, as I had shown to me just days ago, that I wasn’t giving myself enough credit. The mercy I can show myself in recognizing how blessed I am and feeling empowered to continue sharing what I have to offer to the world is exactly what I needed to learn in that moment.

“Count your blessings” as the old song goes; however, I’m afraid that piece of wisdom falls into what Michael Bernoff refers to as “the good idea box”, when we miss the true value of a piece of wisdom by labeling it a “good idea”, putting it into that box and then doing nothing with it. I would much rather learn to live that advice, see the abundance that this life and universe offers me, cultivate mercy for myself to export to others and continue becoming that best version of myself that I know I am capable of being; isn’t that what makes this beautiful life we share worth living?

-MJH

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learning

Continuing my intention set in 30 Day Deal, I’m back here (for the second time in five days; FIVE DAYS!!!). I’m back partially because I made a deal with myself, yet also because, through that deal with myself, I have had experiences that I feel worth reviewing and sharing with you here.

On Friday night, five dear friends of mine from my college days came to Chicago to see me play George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play at Oil Lamp Theater, as well as to visit with each other. It’s funny that, as you’re growing up, no one really tells you, “Hey, you’re going to form connections with these people and grow to love them, but there’s going to be a time when you have deliberately make time to see them because you won’t be able to just walk down the hall to be with them.” Thanks to the collective efforts of all six of us together, we were able to make the time and space to get together and share laughs and tears and memories and, most importantly (to me), hugs.

I knew, approaching the night of the performance that I knew they were going to attend, that I was going to most likely have a level of emotional vulnerability that was quite a bit higher than what I usually work to achieve in playing the man who forgets that he is not a failure because he has friends. I knew it, and it happened; I was almost a wreck twenty minutes in when (SPOILER ALERT) George’s father dies (I normally wouldn’t think this warrants a spoiler alert, but I keep meeting people who have never seen the movie, which is confounding to me). I so deeply felt that loss because the people I knew were in the audience had gone through that same sense of loss as I did when our friend Chris Alonzi passed away two years ago this past December 10. I learned that that level of vulnerability was within me because of those people and our experiences together and, ultimately, because of the love we share for each other. I could not have learned that without that experience.

I also learned today that, when you set an intention and pursue it authentically with your whole self, you can truly achieve a sense of accomplishment that boosts your confidence and gives you an incredible amount of momentum to move forward. In my 30 Day Deal, I set the intention to learn one to two new monologues. I did it because I knew there was an audition coming up for a theater company here in Chicago that I have auditioned for multiple times and that I would very much like to collaborate with in the future. I knew I needed a new monologue to present to them, so, when the 30 Day Deal came around, I said to myself, “I’m going to put this on here and I’m going to do this, so I can give myself an opportunity to win in that audition room whether or not the people casting like it or not.” So, in less than two weeks, I learned a new monologue from a play called Arcadia by Tom Stoppard on the suggestion of a former theater professor of mine who has shown great confidence in my abilities in the past. I walked into that room, made some very pleasant small talk (even managed to get a joke in before I started to make all of us feel comfortable) and presented my pieces. When I finished, the artistic director, who I am always happy to audition for because he’s incredibly intuitive and gives excellent notes, noted that he thought the play I took my second monologue from (The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh) was nice (in comparison to some of the very tragic outcomes presented in McDonagh’s other works) and then gave me an excellent note about the Arcadia monologue. Before I left, he said that he thought my choices in monologues were nice, and that the note he gave me about the Arcadia monologue would create an even better contrast from the choices I was already presenting in the Inishmaan piece. I walked out of that room knowing that I gave them my all AND that I had accomplished an intention that I challenged myself with two weeks ago.

That knowing brings with it a fantastic sense of confidence because, when you tell yourself that you’re going to do something and play full out in getting after it, you make it real for yourself, and that’s what we’re here to do. Learning is part of that process, yet I think people miss that learning is a process. You learn some things easily, you learn some things well, and you have difficulty learning other things, that’s life. However, if you can take how you learn from the things you learn easily and well and apply that process to those things that you have difficulty learning, that is when true achievement occurs.

These experiences and this journey have opened my mind to knowing that learning how to learn is the greatest process we can engage in. We’re all different, driven by different ideas, beliefs, outcomes and emotions, so it’s imperative that we direct our attention and our energy towards learning how to best live our lives and how we function. When I function at my best, then I can serve you to function at yours; it’s as simple as that.

Simple, not easy, though certainly well worth it all.

-MJH