The Don is dead. In 2005 I met him in his restaurant in Cochrane, a town near Calgary. “You’re sitting in the same seat Brad Pit sat in,” he informed. “And do I hear a South African accent?” he enquired of my 21 year old niece, Zoe. And so our friendship began. Invited to be a cast member in ‘Iolanthe,’ the show I was directing with Morpheus Theatre, Don Sylvestre demurred; he’d sung with professional choirs; his restaurant displayed multiple theatre posters; but when we passed him coincidentally on the road back to Calgary he gave a thumbs up, and came to our next rehearsal. Our friendship grew. We had lunches together over the years. On one occasion we travelled the long road to ‘The Iron Goat,’ swapping life stories, and measuring the days. Don had had heart surgeries. He was a man aware of the ticking of time. And he was a gentleman, that caring breed of a person guided by consummate consideration for another. When I’d left to retire to Victoria he gave me a treasured copy of Ogden Nash’s poetry. But on this Saturday, May the 24th, the day I happened to leave from a short visit back to Calgary, I was in Golden, at a hotel, when the news came up on my iPad feed. Don Sylvestre had died on Monday the 22nd. He was done with tilting at his windmills.
Inside, I cried. True tears are not always seen.
Jessie Peters cried. Jessie’s been our friend ever since meeting with her husband Vic, stricken with ALS, back in 2005. At our leaving this time she held us tight and said she missed us already. Our visit all the way from Victoria was too short. And the affection we all feel was a living tug at the heartstrings. I loved seeing her tears; the authenticity of life often wrenches at me too that way: A kind word. A gorgeously rendered theatrical moment; a song; a painting’s splendour; the loving look of one’s friend, one’s partner; or even seeing an animal. These are moments we treasure. These are the moments that can bring us to tears. And in the feeling there is a sublime truth. We know our affection is real. Not just at death. Yet not all tears are seen.
“Redemption” is what the female protagonist in Mad Max wanted. She’d been ripped from a childhood paradise, grown up in a savage land, finally as an adult made the gauntlet back to her homeland, only to find it a wasteland. Redemption lay in overcoming the way of life she had left, not in retiring to the land of milk of honey. And even in going back, there are yet more and more trials. It took her new friend, Max, to help her. Yes, we make shifts in our consciousness with intention, or not. Either way, the passage into a new paradigm is filled with the challenge of today, and tomorrow, and yet another tomorrow. Unless you’re like Don Sylvestre. There comes a final day. So too for each of us. Tick. Tock.
But between the contracts we make with life, with our friends, with our family, with ourselves, and with the very nature of being human and our need to coexist, there are ethics and decisions and actions and intentions and meanings to be made of it all. Don Sylvestre stayed with our community theatre for nearly ten years. His influence affected so very many; our love for him grew and grew. Zoe, my niece, could only perform in one show before she had to go back to Cape Town. But she introduced Laura, a fellow cast member, to her brother, Peter, and out of that meeting a marriage and two new souls, Sean and little Jack, found life. Their lives have just begun. Don Sylvestre’s has ended. It is all that we give and do and feel and think and intend and love that makes for the interim. Don Sylvestre, Sir Sagramore in our ‘Camelot,’ had those five virtues of a true knight naturally: frankness, fellowship, courtesy, purity of heart, and courage.
Mad Max, a modern day Don Quixote, was faced with very many choices as he struggled with his life cast across the Chinook Movie Screen. And although redemption was indeed found, the expected Hollywood romance was not. It was a mirror of real life. We may find redemption in the things we do; the circumstances and events surrounding us are out of our control; it is our handling of life that makes up for our true story. Don exemplified the gentlemen, handling life. Jessie exemplifies the Lady, every gesture and intention and action a giving of herself to others with care and concern and contribution to the whole. In Jessie’s tears, I saw my own. We weep in different ways. Yes, the losses along the way are greater for the loving of those alive; but better to love and to love dearly than not to love at all. ALS, heart disease, and death teaches us too.
As Don, and Jessie, and even Max exemplified it: so very much of life is defined not so much by what we think and feel, as by that which we do. Don, here's tipping our hats off with the love of and to a person such as you! Indeed, not all tears are seen.