For those who may not know, Willy Loman is the main character in “Death of a Salesman,” a 1949 play by Arthur Miller.
I heard a history of the play on the radio. The most telling story of the impact the play began when it first opened on Broadway. After the first few showings, when the curtain dropped at the finale, there was a tangible moment of silence. The applause came fifteen seconds later.
Arthur Miller didn’t understand this. This certainly was not the norm of any play he’d ever seen. Either the applause came immediately or the silence was accompanied by people leaving. So around the fifth showing he sat in the audience near the end of the play to find out why this silence took place.
When the play was over, while sitting in the midst of the audience, Miller didn’t hear the din of the theatre; he heard the muffled sounds of the men surrounding him.
They were crying.
Men are haunted by the ghost of Willy Loman. We live surrounded by the shadow of his presence. We know that one lost sale, one bad break, one misstep, one fault in judgement can redirect our career, our lives, and the lives of those that count on us.
If this happens in your twenties or thirties, you can change course and reestablish your professional and personal direction. You have the time to regroup. However, in your fifties and sixties, this is much harder. You’re not as handsome, not as charming, you don’t move as quickly, and your memory lapses. People look at you differently, if they look at you at all. Fewer eyes meet your eyes. More often than not, you’re looked past, looked around, and often simply overlooked.
And, as it is written at the end of “Death of a Salesman,” when this takes place, “…it’s an earthquake.”
We begin to trip. We lose our balance between ourselves and our changes. This helplessness is pervasive. Control begins to slip. Anxiety and depression take hold. And you begin to scan your emotional topography to look for the reasons life has changed. Did you lose focus, or become too comfortable in your role? Was it hubris, overconfidence, or did you get lazy? Was it a new supervisor who needed a younger look, maybe somebody that looked like them instead of, well, looking like you?
You begin to think hard about the choices left to you. If you’re lucky, you have friends that care. They help you regain your balance. Sometimes, you reinvent yourself, or carry on with better insight to restart the life you had. But for so many, those choices either don’t exist, and we get lost in our hopelessness. Friends fade. Choices narrow.
And Willy pulls up a chair.
At the end of “Death of A Salesman,” Willy Loman ended his life. Men understood that completely: When a man no longer has a purpose, when they’re nothing familiar to do, his identity is lost. His life is over.
The last gesture of survival is to give to somebody, to anybody, in some measure of need. Depression brings with it an helpless, supported by an immobilizing state of hopelessness. We, as men, are useful only to those who need the company we can give, the intelligence we possess and, moreover and most importantly, the care we offer in our capacity to understand, to listen, and to encourage. We don’t know much else. We just do stuff. If we can’t, we’re done.
The only way you can outrun the ghost of Willy Loman is to stop where you are, look on the internet, find a place to volunteer your time. Nursing homes, high schools, clinics, homeless shelters, and adult education centers are the breeding grounds for self doubt and depression. Within the walls of these places grow a jungle shame, insecurity and discouragement that dwarf the growth of hopelessness you carry within you.
Offer them hope. Help them by merely keeping them company, by facilitating some ease, by offering them compassion and patience in whatever their struggle may be. I knew a man that, at the absolute bottom rung of his life, got up every morning, started his computer and got on a website that responded to prayers that were submitted all over the world. His climb back from the darkness started was to write email responses to strangers in need.
Just show up. Show up to the computer screen, to the nursing home, and to the door of the hospital. Write the words, “Smile. Something amazing is going to happen today” on your bathroom mirror, then look for it. Worry not about money. The more people see the love in your heart and the goodness within your spirit, the more they’re going to want you around. The dollars will get back in your pocket.
Life has a way of rebounding the energy of love it receives from your heart. When it comes back to you, it will knock you on your ass. You can’t miss it. Just keep giving your love. You’ve got a lifetime stored up. Now cast a wider net.
In time, Willy’s shadow will fade in the distance. Anxiety and depression will fade. And the next chapter of your life will take hold.
And you can wave goodbye to dear Willy. The next chapter of your life begins.
By entrusting us with your feelings, we help you take steps that you see necessary to begin and put forth the energy to make the needed change.
Now notice something: Trust in a coach, mentor, or guide helps you see what's in front of you. We see a Coach for Your Heart a little like an emotional Sherpa, somebody that helps you climb your mountain by pointing out where to best step along the path.
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