I have one project that commands more than my heart. Within it resides the deepest part of my soul. Over the next few months, it will also command most of my attention. It’s a play called SPIN. If you don’t know how Spin came to be, let me give you a short history lesson.
In 2009, my mother experienced the last of many falls. She was in a rehab facility recovering when we received her diagnosis: cancer—the kind of cancer that can’t be pinned down because it has taken over everything in your body. On Monday, May 4th we visited her pulmonologist who informed us that the only course of action would be hospice care. He would arrange all of it. He was that kind of person. He had cared for my mother’s health for about twenty years. In fact, he told me that she was one of his favorite patients. His sincerity, his surprise at the diagnosis, and his heavy-heart were evident. I left feeling numb. We all know that death is inevitable.
Preparing for its arrival is an odd reality. That is what we needed to do; bring her home, make her comfortable, and watch her die.
Two days later, I was at home getting ready for work when my father called. The hospice supervisor asked if we could meet that afternoon instead of the following day to discuss what to expect when my mother came home later that week. I called work and asked one of the managers who worked for me if he would mind covering my shift—no problem. That’s the way it was at my store. We took care of each other. Grateful, but not surprised, I informed my father that I would meet him at 2:00.
I still can recall that day as if it were unfolding now. It’s that clear and that palpable even eight years later. I had just bent over to tie my boot when my phone rang. What did I expect? The usual, I’m sure—a question about an event, advice about an order, maybe even something silly my friend, Steven who supervised our general merchandise department wanted to share. Nothing could have prepared me for his words:
Nancy. (long pause) There was a shooting in the store. One of the girls in the café got hit. It doesn’t look good.
Stop fucking with me! This isn’t April Fool’s Day; it’s May. Wait. This isn’t a joke; is it? He’s serious. Breathe. Are you breathing? Stop. I asked to speak to my friend, Brian who was my right arm. He filled in more of the details—not all. It would take more than a year before the staff found a way to tell me much of what they saw, heard, and FELT. What do I do? What do I do? I need to meet my dad. I need to get to my store. I need to be with my staff. I need to get to my mom. What do I do? Where do I go?
Those were questions that would play like a record on repeat over and over ad nauseam for the next week. Breathe. Make the calls. I called our loss prevention expert. He was a friend too. He was already on his way from New York. He’d been in war. He calmed me slightly, told me to go to my mother and he would call me when he got to the store. There was nothing I could do. I followed his advice.
I remember standing in the doorway of my mother’s room. I stood there. She smiled. I tried to smile back. She still didn’t know—how sick she was. She’d been so medicated for the trip to the doctor that she’d slept through most of it in the wheelchair. Breathe. I asked my father to come into the hall. I didn’t want her to hear; to know what had happened. She had enough to face. Not now. Just as my father entered the hall, the radio at the nurse’s station blared the news:
Shooting at the Wesleyan University Bookstore. At least one person injured.
Injured? No. She wasn’t injured. I already knew that. The radio? It’s on the radio. Jesus.
Not long after that, my wife arrived. We sat in the family lounge with the hospice nurse. There was a large flat-screen TV in the corner playing CNN. There it was. It was “Breaking News.” There it was for the whole world—yellow tape, paper suits, my store, my staff, my home on the national news. I heard nothing. I was in a tunnel.
The day had a long way to go. I left the meeting and headed to the store. Someone needed to be present that knew where everything belonged while the major crime unit of the state police processed the scene. They let me drive past the barricades. My eyes roamed over the news trucks. There were so many. They were everywhere. There were SWAT teams with guns and dogs in the parking lot. They crossed the street in front of me. You see, the young man who had come into the store with his semi-automatic handgun had somehow escaped them. But that’s a story for another time. Breathe. Am I in a movie? That’s what it felt like. It felt like a movie.
The next couple of days were strange. All the details don’t matter. A young, beautiful, promising woman was dead. My mother was dying. And, a young man who should have had his whole life in front of him was at large, evading the police after committing murder. Surreal. I remember sitting by my mother’s bed while she was asleep. I was watching CNN. The story was everywhere. The shooter, a man named Stephen Morgan had not been caught. His sister came on to make a plea to him. Her hand quivered. She fought back tears as she begged him to turn himself in before anyone else got hurt. Breathe. I stopped breathing for a second. I should’ve been angry. I was angry. Everything shifted for a moment inside me. My God, there is another family in turmoil. What had they done to deserve this pain? Nothing. Loved their son. Loved their brother. I looked at my mother. Breathe. How many people were suffering because of his actions? So many. Too many. It all seemed so senseless to me at that moment—all of it.
A week later, on Wednesday, May 13th my mother died. One week. My entire life changed in one week. And, the truth is that nothing has been the same since. Everything changed. It took me several years to begin to process it all. I’m not sure that anyone ever processes it all. Over time, I began to understand that everything that happens in life touches everything else. We don’t take time to realize that. It does. Violence is like an earthquake. It’s felt at the center most powerfully, but it sends out tremors far and wide. Beneath the surface, it changes the landscape forever. I don’t believe that; I know that to be true. And, that is why SPIN came to be.
SPIN is about the spinning nature of life and death. It may feel as if life and death are spinning in different directions, but in fact, it all spins together in the end. We are not isolated from life nor from death. We are touched in some way by even the most distant tremor. The question is whether our response will be to create another earthquake or whether we will seek instead to create gentle ripples of compassionate change. Both will leave this world altered forever, and both are left in our hands to choose.
SPIN is not a commentary on the second amendment nor capital punishment. It neither seeks to paint a picture of retribution nor does it intend to convey that there should be no consequence for the actions a person takes. It is not religious nor political. Rather, it is meant to provoke thoughtful discussion and reflection about the meaning of life and death and how our approach to both impact this world we live in.
I hope that SPIN can be used as a vehicle to begin difficult discussions and debates. I hope that through its performances, funds can be raised to support organizations that seek to continue these discussions through a variety of mediums. Slowly, incrementally perhaps SPIN can be a small voice in creating a more compassionate, kinder, gentler world.