Columnist views life’s celebrations two ways

By: Susan Rushton, And Another Thing
-A +A
Years ago, Neil Simon came on Johnny Carson at the tail end of the show. Time was running out, and it was clear that the director was pushing people to hurry it up, chop chop ” and so Simon just had 17 seconds or some ridiculous thing like that. This phenomenally successful playwright said something everyone thought was hilarious. He said that he couldn't stop writing plays. Everything he heard, everything that happened to him, it was all material, he said. All useful, and he couldn't just sit and have a good time anymore. He couldn't stop being a playwright. Any time he found himself in an interesting or funny or strange conversation, he was two people: the guy in the conversation, and a writer who was working to remember this so he could use it later. Nobody took him seriously, this night on Carson. Gosh, I wish I had your problem, was the message they sent, and no wonder ” four Tony awards, a Pulitzer and hit after hit on Broadway. Is the guy complaining? No sympathy for this genius, ha ha, time for a commercial, thanks for watching, good night. Simon didn't have time to explain. In fact, he didn't even get as far as I have implied he did. I've fleshed out his situation because I understand it. Not that I've won four Tony awards ” heck, I haven't even won three. No ... after 19 years of writing a column, I'm a split person, too. Put me into an interesting conversation or a traumatic situation? I'm both experiencing it and saving it up for later. When my parents were dying, I was grieving and doing what needed to be done ” and I knew this was good material. I go to Europe ... donate platelets ... read a good book ... laugh until I cry ... it's all grist for this space. It feels sinful. But I can't stop. Just like Simon couldn't, even though he wanted to experience the moment as the moment itself. Last weekend, my husband Don and I went to a party. Two old people got married in December and they gathered friends and family around them to celebrate. It was wonderful. They told the story of how they met and their whirlwind, two-month courtship. Then the microphone made the rounds of the room. In their explanations of how they knew the couple, people told stories about when the kids were little; about when they themselves were little; about being neighbors; about working and playing and growing up; about other towns, other states, dreams and other husbands and wives. As they spoke, little kids squealed with pleasure in another room.  Sometimes we heard pounding feet. The pines outside waved in the wind. The newlyweds stood with their arms around each other as they listened and laughed. And I drank it all in, knowing I'd write about it. I wanted to write about it because it was all so wonderful and ordinary. Ordinary as in basic and human. This is what people do, I thought: they meet and fall in love and get married and celebrate with friends who have known them and their families for years. And they have stories and memories ” memories of pregnancies and deaths, of other celebrations and holidays and parties. And sometimes when they lose their spouses, they meet someone after years of solitude and they marry again. That morning I had passed St. Joseph's on the way back from the Farmer's Market. The parking lot was full. A wedding or a funeral? I thought, and put it out of my mind. But that afternoon, listening to loving story after loving story, I flashed again on the event at the church. Whether a wedding or a funeral, the same thing was happening: people gathered to commemorate life and celebrate each other. Recalling that event as I sat listening to these happy people, I felt wonderfully connected, like a member of the human race. And it felt like a double gift, this connection. I was paying such close attention, enjoying it really hard, because I knew I'd be writing about it ... sharing it with you. And of course you're no stranger to this sort of event, because you're part of the human race as well. Ain't it great? Susan Rushton's column appears every other week in the Auburn Journal. Her e-mail address is