It is the night after the 44th President of the United States of America entered the House of Representatives to stand before a collection of Republicans and Democrats to review the ideas that he would like implemented in 2015. Popular or not, his audience of nearly 32,000,000- a career-low in Barack Obama’s history of such speeches, by the way- tuned in to listen, to determine for themselves their level of agreement. And whether all see eye-to-eye on these talking points or not, it is nonetheless equally as important that we continue to join hands from across the unbelievably long table upon which these United States lie, to unite in a single voice. That way, we may continue to discuss what is indeed in our best interest, how to achieve that end, and how ferociously we must fight to preserve our many ways of life. We are Americans, after all. We are the UNITED STATES of America, an enormous network of interconnected communities that comprise a single nation that may (or may not, respecting all belief) be united by one God.We were only thirteen colonies when we declared our independence from the British on July 4, 1776. We grew to fifty states in 1959, when Hawaii was drawn onto our map. And we all united on September 11, 2001, when Al-Quaida operatives struck not just the Twin Towers, but our very hearts. Regardless of the political division of the time, we are recognizably one country.
When meeting new personalities in my pursuit of CYBILL UNION’s bones- the very stories of this select group of gentlemen and women, essentially- there is always a point when I request to learn about how a significant political event in their history drew them together. On Wednesday, January 14, a day that I was blessed to meet with two friends who are not just acquaintances, but the fathers of theater in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio*, I asked the aforementioned question, only framing it specifically to illuminate how the attacks on September 11 affected not just their lives, but the life of their successful theater company. The following conversation did not only make a huge impression on me for my friends’ lives on the front lines of Dayton’s entertainment industry, but as a testimony to who we are as a country too. For, as one nation under God, we truly came together after such an awful day in the nation’s history to be one human race. And even given our current divisions, we can do it again.
” I’m trying to remember,” Kelly thought while sipping at his cup of coffee. “That was a Tuesday, I think, and we planned to open a show called Over the River and Through the Woods in The Loft Theater. And because it opened the season, we had planned a dinner at Kitty’s followed by a night at the theater that people bought as a package.” Confronting whether to move ahead with the occasion or to cancel it given the horror of the national event, the theater group opted to give the evening a green light, given that the alternative would have been exactly what the terrorist network wanted. In the end, going ahead with Joe DiPietro’s 1998 family-oriented comedy Over the River and Through the Woods was just what an ailing community needed to unite it again. “It was one of the most electric evenings because it brought people together and they bonded. It was one of those occasions that was like being in church: those who were there had decided that, dammit, they were going to go because they were not going to take this away from us. And it was really powerful.” He wiped the tear from an eye and then sighed quietly. “I remember that.”
Flying to New York City a week later to attend a pre-scheduled conference, Kelly held vigil in front of the devastated sight where the Twin Towers once stood. It was the memory for which he and his company members decided to advocate, although the city itself was notably different, quieter, with remnants of ash in the air.
Sitting beside him, his lifetime partner Stephen recalled other tragedies that they endured during their life as a committed couple. Remembering the Space Shuttle explosion first and then Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, he noted a certain sense of removal provided each event’s location, but recognized a single factor that made it easier to deal with each.
“It’s interesting,” he observed, “because these life-changing events really didn’t impact us, other than we had each other to lean on as we watched and experienced them. But,” he paused emphatically,” I think that’s part of who we are as a couple. I was with Kelly when I lost my dad and my mom at separate times. We were together when he lost his mom. These are not national events, but I’m so grateful that I had him to lean on. I had a partner that I could share my grief with. And that is what’s important, just having someone to share it.”
*These names are altered for this blog’s intention, but will be restored later.