I’ve made a lot of condolence calls this week.

A friend lost her father.

Another’s cousin has lost her battle with breast cancer.

A playwright’s mother has moved in and my friend is her primary caregiver. She had to quit her job.

A friend who’s a writer is finding trouble finding hope.

A friend was turned down for a playwrighting position, yet again.

Another friend was let go from her job – without a check in hand for the back pay she was owed and was promised.

At least three of my friends have told me this week that they have no income at the moment. My next door neighbor was laid off and is relying on unemployment for the next half a year.

People are losing their jobs and have no income. How are you supposed to live with no income?

People are having trouble finding hope. The economic disaster triggers emotional pain initially suffered upon losing a loved one, or from suffering a trauma of any sort. It could have been any loved one, not necessarily family. It could have been a loss that happened thirty years ago.

One they thought was over.

And yet the grief is freshly experienced, perhaps in a more straightforward way than ever before.

I’ve found myself crying in my car, with this wave of emotion seemingly coming out of nowhere. I have burst into tears when sitting on my couch.

Even happy occasions like a big anniversary, or the birth of a child, brings anxiety and something less than total happiness.

My Uncle Robert has always said, “You have to live in this world.” And, “You don’t fly so high, you don’t fall so hard.”

I believe him, and feel I live a relatively modest life.

But where are we to get hope right now, when some wounds are fresh, some are getting deeper, and some are cutting right down to the bone?

Medical help is necessary, whether for physical, mental, or emotional pain.

Yet I for one find myself wanting to just simply transcend this pain. I want to sidestep it. Overcome it. Fight it. Slide alongside and then past it and move on along.

But I’ve come to another conclusion in the past few days based on my experience of hearing so much suffering coming from the hearts of my friends and the friends of my heart.

Maybe this is not the best time to do gloss over that pain. Maybe now is the time to fully live in it. It is excruciating and terrifying. But maybe it has to be done.

Maybe facing the pain, accepting it, is the only way to get through it.

I’ve relied on my spiritual practice, and sought to deepen it.

I am searching my heart and soul, or as Dr. Marvin Gottleib of NPR calls my “mind/heart” for anything that will help my friends who are in pain.

I ask my elders for ways to survive.

“When is it my time to profit,” I ask myself?  “From my work, from my investment in health and the searching for a good life? From my career?” I feel bereft at this lack of results.

I asked my mother about this on her 50th wedding anniversary yesterday.

She said, “You give everything you have, and you get exactly zero.” Zero? Zero is a harsh number.  But what she meant was that it’s your duty (and privilege) to give 100% of yourself to building your life, and no-one, ever, can promise you a profit from it. Not financially, not emotionally, not in terms of family, or companionship, or money.

It is a painful thought.

But given that, and the fact that this country has seen about five financial meltdowns since I was 10 years old, I have to start looking at another way to survive.

I had to turn to something else, something deeper, more subtle and yet more profound. The answer for me has been kindness. Supreme kindness. I don’t care what kind of pain I’m suffering at the moment. I’m going to help someone else. Kindness is the answer. Kindness first to myself, then kindness to my friends. Giving and receiving kindness helps us not to be overcome by these circumstances.

So now, when I’m needed, I make time to help others acknowledge their losses and pain. I try to listen and to share any kind of insight – tactfully and graciously and in the right way for each one.

To one, I told the story of my mother’s Zero sum theory. To another, my thoughts on personal responsibility to do no harm to others, whether by omission or commission. To a third, I gave the advice to short-circuit her anxiety by going to bed at night rather than staying up worrying. To the fourth, I made jokes and plans to help with her first standup comedy routine.

To the fifth, I simply said, “I can’t live without you. I need you and I want to live our whole lifetimes knowing each other.” Period.

And that said, I devote myself to building my future. My future will come against hope. I will awaken one day and it will be here. And in the meantime I am living in the present with full commitment to creating the very best future I can for myself and those I love. And that includes my neighbors.

We need to share our selves and our assets right now in this country. There ARE enough resources for everyone. We need to love one another. And that’s what will get us to the next moment and give us hope for the future. We can practice hope and short-circuit our anxiety.

I’ll do anything I can to look at things squarely in the face right now. It gets me to the next moment. I urge you to do the same.

People are suffering all around us and we all need to pay attention to each other.

Jewel said it best: “In the end, only kindness matters.”

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Anne Hamilton

Anne Hamilton is an NYC-based freelance dramaturg and the Founder of Hamilton Dramaturgy, an international consultancy. She created Hamilton Dramaturgy’s TheatreNow!, where she hosts and produces an oral history podcast series of important theatre women working in America. Anne has dramaturged for Andrei Serban, Michael Mayer, Lynn Nottage, NYMF, Niegel Smith, Classic Stage Company, and the Great Plains Theatre Festival, among others. She is also an award-winning playwright. Her chapter, “Freelance Dramaturgs in the 21st Century: Journalists, Advocates, and Collaborators” appears in The Routledge Companion to Dramaturgy. She was a Bogliasco Foundation Fellow, won the Dean’s Prize for Dramaturgy at Columbia University School of the Arts, and holds dual citizenship in Italy and the United States. Anne lost her best friend Curtis in a head-on car accident in 1979, two weeks after his high school graduation. Her emotional life became frozen and she has spent the last thirty-two years exploring all areas of self-expression, particularly through stage plays, poetry, theatre, art, and music. She is currently developing her own chamber-play-with-dance entitled ANOTHER WHITE SHIRT, about the way that grief moves through the body.

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