On Living Longer Than Dad


Jim Berryman

I have now lived ten days longer than my father.

As we flew to Hawaii on Friday, April 12, I was thoughtful of another date: July 23, 1988, was Jimmy Joe Berryman’s 19,707th day, and his last.

April 12, 2013 was Jeffrey William Berryman’s 19,707th day.  All that day, I reflected on the fact that my life’s length equaled that of Dad’s, who died just shy of his fifty-fourth birthday back when I was twenty-nine.  Acute leukemia killed him one month and three days before Amy was born.

This is the question I kept asking myself out over the Pacific Ocean: what should I make of this period of time neither my father nor his father got?

Anjie and I have been talking about the future a lot lately.  Our lives have changed in recent years.  Though we remain strongly connected to our children, they’ve each gone off and begun the process of doing just what we wanted them to do, which was to build solid, independent lives built on foundations of faith, dreams, perseverance, and service.  “The kids are gone and the pets are dead”—we once heard that was the true definition of freedom—and as thankful as we are for our lives thus far, we have grown a bit restless, agreeing together that we need to make new patterns of meaning, behavior, rhythm, and service.

So we’re in the process of praying, thinking, talking, and dreaming just like we did years ago, and though we’re both in the middle of jobs and projects well in motion, we’re trying again to discern the larger picture, and get a sense of which way the wind might be blowing for us over the next 15-20 years, assuming (knowing that it might not be true) that God’s going to grant us this next period of time.   We often say—with a twinkle in our eyes—our lives are just barely half over.  True or not, that’s the way we’re approaching the conversation.

For those of you who know me, you’ve noticed by now that I haven’t said much lately, via blogs, Facebook and Twitter posts, or in performance.  Frankly, there is much to talk about with me, and I hardly know where to begin.   The writing’s been as warful as implied in Pressfield’s The War of Art, and there are days when it’s pretty damn discouraging.   Regrets related to some professional decisions early in my career have been having a field day in the back of my mind as I struggle to make my script work, and the mistakes I’ve made relationally with many old friends creep into play as well.  But back of all that is a growing and changing understanding of life and—most importantly—faith.

In the coming days, I’m going to be blogging a bit more. (“Yeah, we’ve heard that before.”)   How much more is hard to say.   I think about the following things a lot: the meaning and practice of love; racism; playwriting; church; poverty and wealth; theatre; the role of criticism in the theatre; the making of meaning; water (those who have it and those who don’t); injustice’s root causes and the various battles groups engage in to define it and fight it; Christ; art; Islam (I am ¼ of the way through the Quran); the stories we tell ourselves; LGBT issues; the nature and essence of religious experience; brain science; imagination; creation; current events (Boston, the new pope, the theatre I see, pop culture); the list goes on.  Plainly, focus is a problem.

The difficulty of knowing lies at the heart of my journey.   I’ve blogged about that before, and so it’s old news.   But for whatever reason, complexity will not yield in my thinking, and I am reluctant to launch into the sound-byte infested waters, but reluctance can one day give way to cowardice, and with so much at stake in this life of ours, silence does not serve.

It would not be false to say that I come with uneasy voice and a quivering membrane of a spirit as I begin to talk again about my questions and the particular shape of my changing understanding.

I hope you decide to follow along.

And now, back to the question:  what should I make of this period of time neither my father nor his father got?

Something beautiful…

7 Replies to “On Living Longer Than Dad”

  1. Wow Jeff, you and your wife are in the same space Larry and I are. What do we want to be now and where do we want to be it. So many options , so little time .

  2. “. . . with so much at stake in this life of ours, silence does not serve.”

    Jeff, your list of concerns at this time is very like my own. (Reassuring to me!) i appreciate your reflections here, because it helps to see them articulated – rather than the chaotic riot in the heart that sometimes overwhelms me. I think the making of meanings comes moment to moment in the silences, though, as well as in the works of art we are sometimes privileged to create. The choosing to care, to be faithful, to serve instead of be served – and at times to be served by others’ serving, to become informed so that understanding can increase, to be mindful from day to day. It may be that you are where you “should” be. God knows there is enough to be done in this place. A wise person once recommended we just “choose one thing that needs to be done – and just do it! If we all do this change will come.” I sympathize with your struggle in the harness – I am impatient with the unbelievable stupidities that surround us in these times, I marvel at the levels of mean-ness in our culture and wonder where it comes from, since everyone I know is kind and good and means well.
    I look forward to hearing more of your thinking on this, and that of other writers. I think we are, many of us, yearning to be part of a meaningful change for good in the world.

  3. Jeff, first let me say “I miss you.” Second, I love the way you think, struggle, question, agonize, reveal, and….celebrate. You are authentic, the “real deal,” my life is richer for knowing you. Keep at it my friend, you are a gift, a treasure…

    1. Ruth,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to engage here. I love your comments, your advisings, your heart so easily seen in this reply. The challenge is to “choose the one thing that needs to be done.” There are so many, and with all the voices crying out, the discernment to know which is the best to do can be difficult, at least for me. Thanks for your encouragement, and I’ll look forward to hearing more from you.

      Grace and peace.

    2. Steve,

      I miss you, too, my friend. Thanks for the good words. I will keep at it, and will look forward to talking sometime. I would love that…grace and peace…

  4. Jeff, You are one of the most inspirational people I know and listen to; yet when you write an article like this, I wonder. Where is the peace that passes understanding? Do You have the personal relationship with God that He longs to have with you? Have you come to the end of your very talented self and surrendered to the One who will not be satisfied with anything less than conformity to the image of His Son, though He accepts you just as you are? You and God know the answers to these questions. I just wish I did.

    1. Hi, Neita,
      Oh, my good friend, this is one of the reasons I love you so much…you ask very good questions. Where is the peace that passes understanding? Well, depends on what you mean, I guess. Underneath all my meanderings there is definitely a peace that passes understanding, if you can call it that. I trust God. I do. And have I surrendered? Well, again, I think I do, then I don’t. A lifelong process, that surrendering, and I think I’m in it that process, but it’s troubling sometimes. Paradoxes all around. And yes, I wonder about it all, as the coming writing will testify, at least to some degree. So stay tuned, and keep asking.

      And just so you know, you inspire me, too. Big time.

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