I’ve been thinking a lot about how powerful one person can be …
in terms of the number of people they affect. How, in this time of fraught events in the world, catastrophes and fears and apocalyptic murmurings, it’s good to remember that we still have so much power. That light is still stronger than dark because, after all, the dark disappears as soon as you turn on the light. How being bearers of light makes such a difference in small and big ways. How the good you do is immeasurable.
And I’ve been thinking about this, in part, because our good friend—and Matt’s best and oldest friend—died today. He was diagnosed with lymphoma a year ago, and the doctors thought it was something that could be kept under control. Not terminal, they said. But everyone, it turned out, was surprised—because if there is a plan it’s so much bigger than what we can know.
Matt wrote the eulogy he will give at Jerry/Namgyle’s funeral on Thursday and I was so touched by it, and once again, by the ever constant goodness of one single human being.
Here it is:
Jerry and I worked together in Playfair for nearly 40 years. In the early years we often got to do shows together, and just before we would go on stage, Jerry would always turn to me and say, “Let’s love ‘em up!”
That was always his motto---“Let’s love ‘em up!”
Jerry was a very talented and charismatic performer, but the most important thing for him always was to lead with his heart, and to use his performance skills to touch other people’s hearts with his.
Jerry and I first met in a dance class, and I always thought of Jerry as dancing his way through life, both figuratively and literally. For one thing, he was the MOST fun person to dance with. There was so much grace and joy and delight and play in the way he moved, as so many people here can attest. One of the highlights of my own wedding was getting to dance with Jerry, and I remember that everyone else stopped dancing to watch us carry on. Our signature move was one we had learned in contact improv class: Jerry would tap his chest to show he was ready, and I would leap into his arms and he would twirl me around in a circle…. it was so much fun!
For more than a decade, Jerry was in charge of training the new Playfair facilitators, and we used to joke that we put them through Jerry Bootcamp, because they would move in with him for a week, first when he lived in Berkeley, and then later here in Vancouver. One of his first trainees was an aspiring young actor named Benito Martinez. Two weeks after training with Jerry, Benito booked his first big movie role in a film called Outbreak with Dustin Hoffman. It was the first in a long series of movie and television roles for him. Benito later told me that he totally attributed his success in that audition to his time with Jerry, and the sense of his own inner presence he had found from studying with Jerry.
Because even before he became Namgyle, Jerry was a teacher of the spirit. Jerry’s spiritual life was an essential part of who he was, and he had a big sense of purpose about his life, that he had come to this planet to make a difference. Which he certainly did.
Jerry was a very different kind of spiritual teacher than we usually think of--- if there was ever a choice between the ordinary and the outrageous, Jerry always chose the outrageous path! His whole life was theater in that way.
One deep place that Namgyle and I bonded was over our love for our dogs. When I wrote my book Work Like Your Dog, I wanted to write about what it means to be an adult and still be a playful human being, so course I wrote about Jerry. Let me read you an excerpt from that piece…
“Whenever I think about someone who gives himself permission to play at all times, free from the normal social restraints, I invariably think about Jerry Ewen, the President of Playfair Canada. The first time I met Jerry he invited me for a twilight stroll through the streets of Berkeley, and I soon learned that even walking down the street with Jerry can be an adventure. First he discovered a discarded department store mannequin in a trash bin, and he started dancing up and down the sidewalk with her. Then he spied an abandoned shopping cart, and coaxed me into it, so he could push me and the mannequin madly down the street. Our destination turned out to be his favorite bar, where he parked the shopping cart, and the three of us went inside and ordered up a table.
"After a couple of beers, I excused myself to go to the restroom, and when I returned, Jerry and the mannequin were seated at an entirely different table with two attractive single women, and all four of them were waving madly for me to join them. Later that evening, Jerry recounted to me the story of his trip to Montreal the previous winter. Jerry had dined alone in a restaurant that seemed to be populated by nothing but French speaking patrons. He was surrounded by other diners in all sorts of animated conversations, but he couldn't understand a word they were saying. One table in particular caught his eye: it seemed to be a birthday party for a man in his late thirties, and all the guests at the party were drinking toasts, and laughing, and carrying on in a generally rowdy manner. What especially intrigued Jerry about this particular party was that of the fifteen diners around the table, only two of them were men--- all the rest were women. (He loved women. But in a good way).
"Obviously this was the kind of party Jerry would have liked to join, but just as obviously there was no way he could talk his way in. So he finished his dinner in silence. As he was ordering dessert, he noticed that the birthday party was ending, and that all of the women had lined up to say a final farewell to their host. All of a sudden, Jerry saw a way he could join the party without having to say a word. As the birthday boy was hugging each of his guests goodnight, Jerry walked over and stood next to him, opened his arms, and pretended that he, too, was part of the reception line! This outrageous gesture immediately earned him a full complement of laughs and kisses o the cheek from the delighted women. It didn't matter that Jerry couldn't speak a word to them; his open arms were a clear communication that he, too, had come to play.”
So many of the people here at his funeral could tell stories like those about Jerry…. There was always an infectious joy and playfulness and love about being with him. And a sense of adventure too, that anything could happen around him.
I think the best way to honor his memory, is to do what he always tried to do: go out there and… Love ‘em up!