Friday, June 21, 2013

A break from California-style to talk about James Gandolfini

Yesterday I was walking to CorePower for a class when, randomly, a tv at a salon next to the studio caught my eye.  I saw the words "James Gandolfini."  I don't know why I bothered to stop--I knew it was CNN, but...who cares, really? But I did stop, and saw the word "Dead" after his name.

I gasped.  Audibly.  I'm sure the woman walking behind me thought I was crazy.

James Gandolfini. Fifty-one years old, chilling in Italy with his son, going about his daily business, and then, dead. Just like that.

Just like that.  It can happen.  And, more importantly, it can happen to someone like James Gandolfini, who, though I only knew him as Tony Soprano, came across as vaguely immortal.  He was like the anti-star.  He hated speaking to the media--but he still did it.  He wasn't "Hollywood sexy;" instead, he redefined sexy in his own terms....but he didn't brag about it.  He raised a family.  His brute physical appearance was softened by eyes and a smile that were completely without guile.

The writers of The Sopranos were unable to definitively kill off Tony Soprano.  Why? Because it didn't feel right.  Sure, it was the natural course of things: Tony Soprano ought to die.  We all do.  But even in a world of fiction, where anything can happen, Tony Soprano goes right on eating onion rings and we all wonder how long he keeps on eating them.  But we know he DOES go on eating them. Because he's Tony Soprano.

So, in our minds, where the lines between reality and television have blurred to invisibility, James Gandolfini's death is simply beyond understanding.  I've heard a lot today on the CNN loop, he was "larger than life."  He wasn't....that's the thing.  He was just a man.  He was like us.  And that's the problem.  Because we love to put certain people above consequence.  We create caricature mob bosses who are still compassionate, loving husbands and good fathers.  And when the embodiment of that caricature, who takes such good care of it, and us, dies?  It's shocking.

I'm struggling with this bit of news.  Not because I knew James Gandolfini, or even because I was some sort of die-hard Gandolfini fan.  It's because it's just so....unreal.  Except is is exactly real.

In the final episode of The Sopranos, Tony and AJ have the following exchange:

AJ: Focus on the good times.
Tony: Don't be sarcastic.
AJ: Isn't that what you said one time? Try to remember the times that were good?
Tony: I did?
AJ: Yeah.
Tony: Ah, it's true I did.

Had Tony Soprano seen his death coming, I have to believe he would have seen it as an inevitable end.  The only possible conclusion, and a closure of a life well-lived.  Maybe James Gandolfini felt that.  Maybe he learned from Tony Soprano how mortal we truly are.

Hearing of James Gandolfini's death reminded me of a poem by Jennifer Welwood that hangs on the bathroom wall of Yoga Soup, an amazing yoga studio in downtown Santa Barbara.

The Dakini Speaks

My friends, let's grow up.
Let's stop pretending we don't know the deal here.
Or if we truly haven't noticed, let's wake up and notice.
Look: everything that can be lost, will be lost.
It's simple--how could we have missed it for so long?
Let's grieve our losses fully, like ripe human beings,
But please, let's not be so shocked by them.
Let's not act so betrayed,
As though life had broken her secret promise to us.
Impermanence is life's only promise to us,
And she keeps it with ruthless impeccability.
To a child, she seems cruel, but she is only wild,
And her compassion is exquisitely precise:
Brilliantly penetrating, luminous with truth,
She strips away the unreal to show us the real.
This is the true ride--let's give ourselves to it!
Let's stop making deals for a safe passage:
There isn't one anyway, and the cost is too high.
We are not children any more.
The true human adult gives everything for what cannot be lost.
Let's dance the wild dance of no hope!

RIP, James Gandolfini.  Don't stop...

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