Monday, March 27, 2017

A Cup of Tea with Mare

Theatre stageMare was one of six writers when I met her nine years ago. She was the elder statesman of the group, but only because she had ‘been around’ longer than the others. It soon became clear that she was the eternal innocent, with a great gift for language, bracing willingness to learn, and luminous love of life. It was all wrapped in a southern ambiance that years in California and then Oregon had not been able to erase, adding to her charm and the surprise of her wicked humor.

Photo by: puroticorico

At the first gathering of this unique group of writers, I asked everyone to introduce themselves by the name by which they wanted to be known. Mary said, ‘I have always wanted to be Mare, so that’s who I am in this group.’ At the age of seventy-five she joyfully proclaimed her new name and to this day that is how I know her.

This was a group of people with one uniting story. They were all living with cancer. Over four months, through the Performing Wellness™ process, they would meet weekly, and become writers, Not patients or victims, not people to be cured, but artists with the gift of their unique story to share. Each story would then play on stage, performed by the actor with whom they worked closely over the last 3 weeks, for public audiences of friends and strangers alike.

Mare very quickly found a personal connection to each member of the group, one that had nothing to do with cancer. She played golf with Clif, shared a love of poetry with Pat and Bill, a sense of irony with Nancy and long after the group was over would meet with Belle and write just for the joy of sharing writing.

Slowly, then quickly as trust and confidence grew, each person’s story with cancer unfolded. Mare, always empathetic, listened with her heart open to the stories of illness, pain, fear and trauma. She didn’t know what to write. She became stuck. She said that she didn’t feel she really had a story to tell. She was so well, her life was so good. She walked regularly along the Willamette, was an attending member of the gym, golfed almost religiously, went to the theatre, to writers’ retreats and traveled all over America visiting her brothers. What could she possibly have to say that offered anything compared to the stories in this group?

I asked her to recount to me, in order, her immediate experience with cancer, beginning when she was 38. She then made a ‘guilty’ admission, one to which the group nodded agreement. I said, “That is the story Mare.”

When the show opened, Mare’s story was the final one in the lineup. She had worked with two actors, a woman who was as southern and gently strong as she was, and a tall, elegantly handsome, dark-haired, young man. In her two-person play he appeared on stage first, in a tuxedo, his hands nonchalantly in his pockets as he quietly surveyed the audience. “Good evening. First let me thank you for giving me a chance to tell you a little about myself… . You have no idea what it is like to pick up the morning paper and read that some mad scientist is yet again declaring that he has found a way to wipe me out… Me, man’s faithful companion, me such a friendly and sociable being… .”

He breaks into a song and dance about friendship. She has introduced us to Mr. C. For the next 15 minutes, with Mr. C as her self-announced ‘dinner partner, entertainment director, dance partner, bedmate, alter-ego, everything… life-long friend’, M travels through Carcinoma-land (stopping at Cervix City for an operation); Melanoma-ville (after she had retired and come to Portland); and finally Boobysburg where M finally tells Mr. C that he does not have the power over her he used to. In this scene he ends up sitting sulkily in the wheel chair and M takes center stage.


Mare/M was willing to name the siren call of being the center of attraction that comes with cancer treatment. Mare/M moved from the Strong Silent ‘ladies don’t talk about their troubles’ Southern mantra into a woman who reached out to share with others. She quoted Yeats to him, as he held his hands over his ears and shouted at her to read the obits.

“Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress… “

Mare gave us a woman proud to be a survivor but not defined by the illness she had survived, not once, but 3 times. Mare/M told us, “I learned that survival means caring for the spirit as well as the body. How sweet that can be.”

The Mare with whom I always have a cup of tea, ginger cookies, sliced apple and cheese whenever I go to Portland, lives that lesson. Sitting at her table, with a cup of hot black tea, I drink her in. She has been taking painting classes and uncovered a talent for art. Her easel takes center stage in the light coming through the dining-room window. (Her computer has been banished to the spare room that she calls Versailles after all the mirrors in there!) There are always new books on the table, a coat hanging on the door ready to go out, and the latest story of the generations of her family.

Mare told me once that she didn’t want to be called an inspiration. So I won’t. And ‘example’ misses the fun that is Mare. Maybe ‘shining light of a friend’? But that is a bit soppy for a real Southern lady. So I will simply say, I love her, and when I grow up I want to be just like her – caring for my body and my spirit and embracing life with the same honesty, wit and curiosity.

About the Author

Kate Hawkes, Theatre Arts Professional

Kate Hawkes

Kate Hawkes is a freelance theatre professional, and a consultant with the Society for Arts In Healthcare. She created Performing Wellness ™, the renowned process that uncovers and releases the creative ‘wild child’ muse, shares those stories in public performance and promotes healing. She has worked with individuals living with cancer, HIV/Aids, Multiple Sclerosis, Rape and Sexual Abuse, and war-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She is currently working on Personal Magic, about the power of the arts in accessing soul and spirit as a means for personal and community wellbeing. See more information about Kate Hawkes.

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