When my cell phone rang a few days ago, I figured it was a campaign volunteer wanting me to vote early or donate money. Or a student wanting to set up office hours. Or a salesperson touting some once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
But the call brought bad news.
A friend, a woman in her mid-40s, had lost her husband: a man of 46, a father of three, a former college football player, and a strapping fitness buff. He’d died suddenly just a few days after the couple’s wedding anniversary.
My caller, a mutual friend, said it was an embolism or blood clot. She thought I’d want to know.
Suddenly, political campaigns and college students and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities didn’t matter much.
The next evening, my wife and I attended opening night of a world-premiere play called “The House That Jack Built” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre.
We never see the title character in James Still’s Thanksgiving story. Like the absent father in Tennessee Williams’ “A Glass Menagerie” or the dead college friend in the film “The Big Chill,” Jack is ever-present but never seen. He’s the undertow.
Throughout this funny and poignant play, Jack’s widow, his mother and his sister are each struggling, in their own way, to deal with Jack’s death and move on.
Jules, Jack’s widow, tells of the extraordinary measures she’s taken to keep Jack’s spirit alive and in her life—including seeing a shaman.
“I thought all this meant that I would rescue Jack,” says Jules. “That I might bring him back, like some Greek myth.”
“Poor Jack,” says Jack’s mother, Helen. “He must have wondered what to do.”
“What do you mean?” says Jules.
“I wanted him to stay put so I’d be able to find him when I got to heaven. And all the while you were trying to bring him back. He must have wondered what to do. Jack. ‘Should I stay or should I go?’”
“Maybe it’s the living who haunt the dead,” says Jules.
“But you didn’t bring him back,” says Lulu, Jack’s sister.
“Turns out it wasn’t Jack who needed rescuing,” says Jules. “It was me. I had to bring myself back from the dead.”
“How?” asks Lulu.
“I had to start all over again, from the very beginning. Slowly. Quickly. Quietly. Loudly.”
And so it is for everyone in Jack’s life. Trying to move on. Struggling to start over.
Someday, my friend who lost her husband will have to move on and start over. Once upon a time, I did too.
After the election Tuesday night, many of my friends on Facebook and some of the pundits and politicians I follow on Twitter spoke of starting over.
Some who supported Mitt Romney were bitter.
Some who supported Barack Obama were giddy.
But many saw not a chance to gripe or gloat, but rather to move on and start over on shared challenges.
“The nation, as you know, is at a critical point,” said Mitt Romney in an eloquent concession speech delivered in Boston. “At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work.”
Ever the business advocate, he called on “job creators of all kinds” “to invest, to hire, to step forward. And we look to Democrats and Republicans in government at all levels to put the people before the politics.”
Moving on. Starting over.
In his Chicago victory speech that followed, Barack Obama delivered a similar message.
“In the coming weeks and months,” Obama said, “I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together.
“I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests,” he said. “We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and forever will be, the United States of America.”
Moving on. Starting over.
On election night, some of my preferred candidates won. Three of my dear friends lost. But despite our often-nasty electoral process and our Rube Goldberg governance model, I’m grateful to live in a nation with peaceful transitions of power and broad participation by all who choose to partake.
Now, like the characters in James Still’s “The House That Jack Built,” we have to get over it. We have to move on.
As my friend who’s lost her husband and her children who’ve lost their father will now learn; as Jack’s family had to learn; as I once learned, life is too short for grudges and sour grapes, for backstabbing and obstruction.
It’s time to move on. It’s time to start over. It’s time to make like Jack and build this house together.•
Hetrick is an Indianapolis-based writer, speaker and public relations consultant. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.