Mr. Scott Wilson who played Hershel on The Walking Dead passed away Saturday. I am grieving, not because I’ve been a fan of the show for years, but because I hurt for his family, both relatives and cast members…For the leukemia he battled, making his last days somehow more sad. More personally, I hurt for my daughter, Lindsey, who has had the opportunity to work with Scott on several occasions. She cried. She pulled out pictures. And, she grieved. Linds was quiet yesterday. She knew Scott as a great story teller- but she didn’t bring up a single story, …or the quiet times between long, hustling hours she spent in his presence. He recounted to her, details of his youth. It kind of feels like a member of the family is no longer with us. And, in my belief that this big family really IS connected, this big, human family…our family IS smaller, today. And, we are sad. For anyone who knows her, my daughter is a rare kind of people magnet. Some of her closest friends are all names you’d recognize and she has worked with some of the most respected talent in the industry. People love her. And, being as unbiased as possible, I have to say, she is one loveable human. I thought a lot today about her reality…how her gregarious demeanor is always devoid of the hundreds of names she could drop. But, she doesn’t. Not because of humility, although she is humble, but because she is one of the most fine examples of seeing a person the way they hope to be seen- not as an actor, an artist, or musician, the mom putting her baby up for adoption or the homeless man down on the corner and down on his luck. She sees the human. She sees ‘the what and the who,’ not as a ranking, but as a chance to learn more about an individual’s story. She’ll sit and split a sandwich with the homeless guy on the corner and walk away fascinated that they both play the piano. She has avoided stars who lost themselves on the way up, because, they stopped seeing the “people” that helped get them there. They only see fans. Some fans only see stars. We all pick up on this…the visibility quotient. Throughout my life, I’ve had bizarre opportunities fall in my lap, and suddenly, I’m in the same room with A-listers, from running into Don Henley to being ran over by Vince Vaughn and lots of people in between. Don’t get it twisted…that’s not my circle. I just have some pretty cool, “There I was,” stories. I’d like to think I had some small part to play in how my kids have the uncanny lack of being star struck, regardless of how much they respect the talent behind the person, they first saw the person. No matter who we are, from where we came, the mistakes we’ve made, it is my truth that we have value to add to the human race. That everyone taps into it is another story. But, to the surprise of many, some of my most moving conversations have taken place behind 9 steel doors as a manager in a level III prison, with felons in my charge. I have seen ethereal art work that would move you to your core, it was so flawless, sketched by gang members. (Bear with me while we jump tracks here.) Inside the walls of this prison, there was one particularly distinct young man. He stood out, not because of his actions, but, because of the lack thereof. Everyday, I’d unlock the final door leading to the floor where the guys were housed, sometimes for 30 years and longer, and everyday, there was this young guy, with dreads, in his late twenties that constantly walked the hallways when we weren’t in sessions. He never spoke, never acknowledged anyone, just walked. His body was incarcerated, but, it was apparent, his mind was free. I stopped him one day, after months of never witnessing him speak, and told him to come to my office in 15 minutes. He showed up, stern faced and unsure why he was being called in. The guard asked if I wanted him to accompany me. No. I looked straight into the eyes of this hardened felon and said, “You’re creating something out there…all those miles you put in those hallways…what are you creating.” He dropped his head, slowly shook it and said, “You’re wrong. Ain’t nothin’ I’m doin’ here but time. Can I go, ma’am?” I said, “Yes. But, I sure would like to know what you’re working on, if you ever want to tell me.” A few weeks passed, and in my work “mailbox” was a kite- a note from an inmate requesting an appointment with me. It was from him. I immediately responded and told him I could see him that day. He arrived right on time, with a bundle of loose leaf paper under his arm. He was nervous. Sitting across from me, he asked for permission to use a pencil. I took one out of my desk and placed it in front of him. He cleared his voice. Picked up the pencil, stared at it and began to talk. He told me his young daughter had died after he was sentenced and the only way he could cope was to write music. The story was detailed and tragic- the lump in my throat was beginning to hurt. As he finished talking, he quietly said, “So, since you’re the first person to ask me, I’d like to sing you one of my songs.” I could only nod, for if I spoke, I’d surely cry. The pencil, as it turned out, was used to create the most rhythmic beat on the corner of my desk, and as he closed his eyes to sing, he may as well have been in Madison Square. The song was his most prized, about his little girl. Tears ran down his face, his eyes still closed, never missing a beat, and from the first word…it was art. He sat with his eyes still closed a moment, which gave me time to dry my own. Then, he looked at me. He saw, not the person who held him accountable in group everyday, and I didn’t see a department of corrections six digit number. He was a hurting human. And, I was hurting for him. It was one of several times I saw past the prison scrubs and they saw past the title and there were just two humans in a sterile room, seeing the value the other added to the planet. I was asked often, “How can you work with those felons everyday?” It wasn’t always easy. But, some days, I saw men with gifts to give and hearts that were shattered that just wanted to make everything right again. When these moments came, I always did my best to assure them that they would. They would sing the songs, paint the landscapes, run the straight mile that hadn’t been ran in decades…they would be willing and eager to deliver the apologies and live the life they, from the moment they were behind bars, had time to sit and think about. Nothing but time and regrets. I am certain my affinity for the good in us all comes straight from my dad. If he was talking about somebody, he was building them up. If he wasn’t, he was saying how they would do better when they knew better. I know that’s a simplistic, ideal view of people in general, and definitely of myself, personally. But, I learned the grace bit from him, too. For myself as well as for others. As writers, we are to express with articulation, smooth, seamless thoughts for the reader, as if, when read, no effort was required, whatsoever. Today is not that day for me. I am in a caldron of human emotion, and the only closing remark I can offer to tie this headful of thoughts together is this: it’s not what you know, or even who you know…it’s what you know about who you know. Everyone you meet knows something you don’t, and inside each of them, a universe with more than enough beautiful facets to change our view of that person, instantly. We are all, ALL, talented beyond measure. That someone comes along and believes in us aids in manifesting that talent. But, once that talent is unveiled, remember the person that seeks visibility beyond their accomplishments…beyond their mistakes…beyond their fame or fall- we are first, humans. Thank you for the thousand loosely woven thoughts today… Rest in paradise, Mr. Scott Wilson.
I can’t express in words at the moment. They will come, but for now, a mixture of smiles and tears. Sympathy for Lindsey and all those whose lives have been touched by Mr. Wilson, which are many.
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That’s how I felt writing it…just so many emotions that it was difficult to decide to release it. Then, I thought, that’s exactly the point.