A defining experience of my teenage years—actually, of my life—was joining my high school’s drama department. To be clear, I am not an actress. I was never comfortable onstage, under the lights, pretending to be someone else. The written word is how I gain access to and empathize with other lives. My junior year of high school, I wrote a play and shared it with the drama teacher, Mr. E, an elderly Irishman with a broad smile and an ever-present twinkle in his eye. What he did next would change my life.
He said he loved my play, and asked if the high school could put it on as the spring production. Thrilled, I said yes. But Mr. E’s kindness did not end there—he asked me to be Assistant Director, so I could be part of the process from start to finish.
And so it began: five months of casting, rehearsals, costumes, set design. I conferred with the actors and rewrote scenes. I learned about stage directions, lighting, music. My script became something bigger, something more than the words I had typed alone at my computer.
On opening night, I had difficulty holding back my tears. Seeing my words brought to life onstage was nothing short of magic.
The show ran for six performances. On closing night, I was having difficulty holding back my tears, but for a different reason. All of us were feeling glum. We had reached the end. Months and months of hard work, and this was it. The last performance.
Before the curtain rose, Mr. E called us all together. “Theater is ephemeral,” he said. “Fleeting, like a dream. It doesn’t last forever. Each performance is unique and sacred. That is what makes it bittersweet—but that is also what makes it beautiful.”
Not just theater—our lives too are ephemeral. As Ilyas Kassam wrote, “To know yourself, you must know the transience of yourself.” As painful and sad as change can be, it is also what makes life so precious, continually rich with new experiences.
And perhaps simply being aware of the transience of life is its own beautiful reward.
We all have our own memorialized firsts. First day of school, first soccer goal, first kiss. Firsts are naturally weighted with importance. We notice firsts. We take mental photos of firsts, and store them away in our mental scrapbooks.
But what about lasts?
While I have montage memories of my parents reading me bedtime stories and kissing me goodnight, I cannot specifically remember the last time they did. We rarely recognize a last while it is happening. I wish I could specifically remember the last piggyback ride my dad gave me. Or the last time my mom held my hand crossing a street. The last blanket fort I made with my little brother. The last note my best friend passed me in high school. The last time my college roommates and I had a random dance party because we needed a break from our homework.
Thinking about lasts can seem melancholy. Yet the great thing about lasts is that, unlike firsts, it is possible to have more than one last. Just go do something again and it suddenly becomes a new last.
I still love writing plays, and I’ve been fortunate to have three new “last” shows of different plays I’ve written, including one in New York City. I hope there are many more to come. Although Robert Frost wrote that “nothing gold can stay” I believe the golden glow of life’s happy moments remain with us.