On Mr. Hess's Passing

On Mr. Hess's Passing

I have not written much about Mr. Neil Hess, at least not that I have shared. I think about him all the time, and through his teaching, in some way, he is in all my thoughts; he is in the way that I live. I have not written about him because he is too big a subject for me to fully engage yet. He is too important to me to write quickly or flippantly. I will have to write now, though. I have to get my memories into words, so that I can be with them because I will never again be with him.

I will never visit and introduce him to my children: a dramatic storyteller, a dancer, a musician. He would have found them delightful. I will never sit with him for a cup of tea and excitedly tell him all the stories from my brief time in the professional ballet life that proved him right. I won't ever be able to thank him for telling me the truth and for forming my goals and dreams in my heart, for behaving like I could achieve them. I can't cry to him about how much it hurt to watch it all crumble out from under me. I can't ask him to remind me about why art is so important, why I should love being an artist and continue to chase. I will never write the letter explaining why I haven't talked to him for 15 years. 

Last night, as we all read the words that he had passed away, alongside my grief was another feeling, regret. I wrote this for one dear friend: "My painful confession is that I let myself lose touch with him because of shame. I considered myself a failure as a dancer, an artist, and so I never went to him any more when I went home. I never wrote. I was afraid he would think I gave up too easy. I was too young to know that all that wasn't true, and that shame was the last thing I ever needed to feel. But I did, and it kept me away. I had been working up the nerve to write to him (for a couple years now.) I guess now I never will." 

You see, I thought there was still time. When someone is in the very fabric of your life, you forget that he is just a human. I was a child during the time he taught me from 7 to 17, so I have retained a somewhat childish vision of him. He was never just another one of us to me. He was like some kind of Gandalf to me, or a tree in the woods you consult for wisdom, some icon of the theater, a legend that would always be. Someone like that could never die. I always pictured him still thinking and making art. I imagined that I would be ready, and I would begin my relationship with him again, this time as an adult even more appreciative of who he is was and what he had to offer.

Of course, he was, after all, only human. I remember human moments. I remember him being sick, losing his temper, trying out bad ideas. And so he has died, like people always do. I will miss him until I die too. 

The good news is that he used his life to teach and show, so I have him with me forever. If he, merely human after all, could have the influence, the power for good that he had, than I can too. This notion excites me! He wasn't the magical character I saw him as when I was young. He was a man who loved art and people and, through the pursuit of these loves, made a profound impact on the world. I know he was other things too, things only his wife, his children, his friends, his opponents may ever know. To me, he will always be the greatest teacher I ever had, the reason I was able to run after ballet, and the inspiration to love and value art. 

I love you, Mr. Hess. I'm sorry I never wrote. I will miss you always. I look forward to writing story after story about you.

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