Sunday, September 9, 2007

Chicago Sun Times

Open letter to Owen Wilson
Religion Writer

This is a bit of a departure for me, as I’m not in the habit of writing fan letters.

In fact, the last one I sent was a bubble-lettered note to the actor Jon Cryer about 20 years ago in the wake of his earth-moving (for a 16-year-old alt-chick from the suburbs) portrayal of Duckie Dale in “Pretty in Pink.”

But under the circumstances, I thought it was OK to err on the side of sycophancy. So …

Thank God you’re still with us, brother.

Please don’t try that again. We need you.

And by we, I mean the world.

As you well know, these are precarious, fraught times we live in, and the one thing we cannot bear to lose is our sense of humor.

To paraphrase that great celluloid shaman Elwood Blues, you, Mr. Wilson, are on a mission from God.

Just a ‘TV friend’

Laughter is carbonated holiness, and you, therefore, are a holy man, at least according to the theology of Anne Lamott. She’s my favorite writer, a funny lady who is as acquainted with melancholy as she is with humor.

I once asked Annie whether she thought we — people — could be grace for one another. “I think we can hold space for other people,” she said.

In that way, you have been grace for me. On certain overwhelming days, when it’s hard to catch my breath and bleakness curls around my heart like a purring cat, I can reach for any of your films — “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Life Aquatic” or “You Me and Dupree” — and laughter liberates my soul. Your words, written or spoken, sometimes provide the space for joy where it felt like there was none.

Thank you for that.

Now, I don’t know you from Adam. You’re just a “TV friend,” as they say. Still, I can’t help but believe that the common thread in your character portrayals — whether it’s whacked-out-on-mescaline Eli Cash, self-effacing fatherless Ned Plimpton, or tiny-cowboy-with-a-Napoleon-complex Jedediah — is the inherent you. The Owen-ness. It’s a certain empathy — profound tenderness, really — that makes the ridiculous compelling and buoys tragedy to comedy.

Seeing with God’s eyes

It is precisely because of your wounded-ness and the visible cracks in your veneer that your characters transcend two-dimensional clownishness.

You are the ne’er-do-well we root for in spite of himself (and our own judgementalism). You bring out the best in us and make it easy to forgive setting the living room on fire or crashing our wedding (or funeral). You are the mensch, the fool for the Lord, the stranger whom we let in, the divine comedian.

One blogger, a journalist who apparently knew you in Austin, Texas, back in the day, described you recently in a heartfelt essay as “a human sunbeam in the abyss.”

I’m guessing, given recent events, that kind of description may seem laughable to you. Still, that’s how many folks perceive you even if you can’t see it yourself. And sometimes strangers can see us far more clearly than we are capable of seeing ourselves. If we’re really lucky, they might see us with God’s eyes.

I had to chuckle at one of the news reports about your hospitalization that breathlessly reported you had visited a Santa Monica church the Sunday before the incident, “either out of desperation or devotion.'’ Really, I can think of no better reasons to go to church. After all, to quote Annie again, the best two prayers one can offer to the Creator are: “Help me, help me, help me,” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Should you find yourself back at that church or another, please know it is meant to be a shelter in the storm, the place where brokenness is the only prerequisite for membership, and where grace is shared by the bucketsful.

Know that you don’t struggle alone, that you have kind company during dark nights of the soul, that you are lifted in prayer by those who know and love you best, as well as by those who only know you as the voice of Lightning McQueen.

Please let others hold space for you until the encroaching shadow of despair passes. And it will.

And when your contagious laughter bubbles to the surface and overflows once again, know that you are in the presence of the holy.

We need you and the peals of holy laughter you inspire.

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