Just be yourself – Let your light shine. Isn’t that every mother’s best advice? However, being different – creative with a sense of humor – sometimes got me into trouble.
In junior high, I had an unusual fashion sense. Sometimes I’d wear all white to school, which caused the tough girls to taunt me. I had this fabulous leather tooled purse from Mexico that my grandmother gave me. Those chicks considered it weird.
One day, I was walking down the hallway with an armload of books. A violent push from behind sent me falling. The books flew across the floor. I stood up and turned around to see who attacked me. A tough girl delivered a swift kick to my groin. Now, women don’t have those sensitive parts like guys do, but it still hurt, big time.
A school counselor thought a group discussion would help dissipate the tension. She asked the tough girls to find common ground with me by having us each name our favorite ice cream flavor. “Chocolate.” “Chocolate.” “Fudge Swirl.” “Chocolate.” “Chocolate Chip.” “Chocolate.” Me – “Daiquiri Ice.”
The exercise didn’t help. Moving to another school district did.
In college, I joined the Markland Medieval Mercenary Militia. It was the University of Maryland’s own version of the Society for Creative Anachronisms. We’d get dressed up in medieval outfits, have battles and feasts, march in parades and provide color at the local Renaissance festival.
I was Jastar, the Lady of the Light. I wore a Robin Hood outfit, with green tunic and tights, brown moccasin boots and a jaunty hat. My weapon was a staff, and I was pretty good at fighting with it.
My personal symbol was, and still is, a flaming tree. It hearkens back to the Exodus story of God speaking to Moses through a burning bush. I love the idea of divine illumination delivered by a fiery shrub.
I stitched this symbol on my backpack while working at the university copy center, waiting for jobs to finish running. Later on, I switched costumes and became Jastar the Jester.
And now, I am the Doyenne of Death – check out the pearls! A doyenne is a woman considered senior in a group who knows a lot about a particular subject. And that would be me, helping shed light on the party no one wants to plan – a funeral.
The Doyenne of Death is not something I planned on becoming. Yet this arc of my career was hinted at back at the University of Maryland where I majored in communications and film.
One of our film production class assignments was to create a project titled The Bubblegum Film. Everyone had to make a three-minute, black-and-white movie that had something to do with bubble gum.
Most of my classmates produced films that incorporated car chases. I did a satire of The Seventh Seal.
This classic film by Ingmar Bergman opens on a beach at dawn. A medieval knight and his trusty servant awake and prepare for the day. Then Death appears, the Grim Reaper has come for the knight. The knight challenges Death to a game of chess. As long as the knight continues to win, he gets to live.
In The Bubblegum Film, Death was Bob, my boyfriend and future ex-husband. The knight was Eric, the best man at our wedding. Our costumes from the Markland Medieval Mercenary Militia came in handy.
When the knight asks Death if he plays chess, Death says he never learned. Thinking quickly, the knight asks if Death likes bubblegum, as he holds up a piece of Bazooka. Remember when gum had fortunes inside the wrapper?
Yes, Death loves bubblegum! They agree to abide by the fortunes in the wrappers. The knight’s fortune: “You will go on a long journey soon.” Death’s fortune: “You will soon obtain what you seek.”
The knight and Death stroll down the beach together, and Death starts skipping. And yes, you can see The Bubblegum Film on YouTube.
My motto is: talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, and talking about funerals won’t make you dead. I’m living proof of that.
Bringing light to the dark subject of death and helping start much-needed conversations – this is my life’s purpose. Sure, it’s a different way to make a living, but it’s my destiny. I was making light of death decades ago.
Death is a destination we’re all heading toward. Let’s laugh while we yet live.
So how about you? What’s your life purpose? What burning bush illuminates your mission? What’s your unique passion and calling? Find it, and let your light shine.
Gail Rubin is author of The Family Plot Blog and A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die.