When I was a child, my grandmother, a former citizen of the country called The Austro-Hungarian Empire, was teaching me German, the official language of her (by then) non-existing country. One of the books she used for that purpose was a counting book with a mildly disturbing title “Zehn kleine Negerlein”, a title that we will translate, benevolently and in the spirit of political correctness, as “Ten little black boys”. At the beginning of the book there were ten little black boys living happily in Africa (and speaking German, I suppose), jumping and playing and having fun. Just as on a reality TV-show, on each page one boy got eliminated. They either drowned in the sea or were devoured by wild beasts or fell from a tree and broke their neck. The author’s imagination was limitless when it came to ways of dying.
We, the cast of “Babylon 5”, are “Zehn kleine Negerlein”. We get eliminated one by one and I think it’s high time to create a highly instructive counting book for kids, using our characters. Each year there are fewer of us. Each year (or so it seems) I get a call from Bruce, our captain. Each year my reaction is the same: I am always so happy to hear his beautiful, raspy, dramatic voice. And each year he says: “I have some bad news, Mira.”
Somebody once said: “It’s the curse of Babylon 5.” Somebody else said: “But the curse will be removed after death #3.” (Is there such a rule in the science of curses? And if there is, it’s been proven invalid.) Someone else said: “How come only the men are dying? It’s the women’s turn now.” Someone said: “Are we getting together only when one of us dies?”
So, who is the next one? Will it be me? Will it be you? Our cast is the world in a nutshell. Aren’t we all asking that same question: who will be the next one? And what will be the manner of elimination? What will the imaginative Great Author come up with this time?
It’s always silly to ask “why”. There is no reason. Things happen. Blows come with an “unbearable lightness” (Kundera), just to show us how incredibly vulnerable we are and how fragile our lives are and how we’re not in control. Of anything, especially not our lives. The ancient Roman philosopher Seneca, a stoic, said: ‘Don’t ask “why me?” Ask “why not me?”‘
Seneca proposed a daily meditation, a “praemeditatio”, as a means to prepare ourselves for the troubles that lie ahead – for everybody, rich and poor, success and failure, the oppressor and the oppressed:
“We live in the middle of things which have all been destined to die. Mortal have you been born, to mortals have you given birth. Reckon on everything, expect everything.”
However hard we try, though, we cannot quite succeed in being “prepared” for the next blow. Every time we are shocked again, every time we feel the pain again. We are not stoics, we are not wise, we are just mere mortals unable to understand anything, let alone the biggest mystery of all – death.
But we have our own tricks that defy the pain and the loss: we remember. And thus we keep them alive, those “little black boys” that are no longer with us.
I remember Michael giving me and Goran a ride in his newly rented cool red cabriolet and saying: “I guess this is Hollywood.” As we had no idea what “Hollywood” is (we still have no clue), we believed him. I remember him bringing a big Saguaro cactus into our freshly rented West Hollywood apartment as a house warming gift. It lived with us for more than 10 years.
I remember Jeff bringing a set of Martini glasses as a housewarming present when we moved to our house. The glasses are still with us.
I remember Andreas’ tears rolling down his G-Kar rubber cheeks while doing a scene with me, a scene that I discovered through him, a scene that was one of the best acting lessons I’ve had in my life, a scene that showed me how a truly gifted and committed actor can lift you, his partner, to his level, only if you open your eyes and ears and – most importantly – your heart.
I remember Tim mesmerizing me with his performance on the set. I didn’t know who he was. I imagined he was a very old man. When I saw him afterwards in the trailer, with his Zathras make up removed, I gasped: What a handsome man! I remember him coming to dinner at our house, requesting “something from your country” and getting exquisite Texas enchiladas that Goran made in his honor (yes, Tim was from Texas).
I remember Rick, his beauty, his talent, his human decency, his voice that I loved listening to so much. I remember our ride in his car (we were returning from a convention and I didn’t drive on highways – I still don’t) and our conversation about “Hollywood” (which was once and for all defined by Michael as a cool red cabriolet). I remember my tears and him saying to me: “Fuck them. They don’t know. Don’t’ let them have power over you. They are not the ones who validate your worth.” I remember him bringing me a present to the set, a present consisting of classis American kids’ videos (Rudoph the Reindeer etc.), saying to me: “This is your learning material.”
I want to be Seneca. But I can’t. I’m not prepared. I am sad.
I am sad.