Today’s post is both happy and sad. It’s sad because this past Sunday, Clare Reidy one of the dearest people that ever walked this earth, left it to fly to another place. And for so many of us still here, that is a hard truth to come to terms with. Time seems to have stopped.
But this post is also happy – because I get to tell you about an extraordinary woman. You dear reader, may not have known her – but I believe you can be touched by her magnificent life too. And that would be fitting, because Clare was Irish. And in the Irish tradition, when a person dies it is customary to remember them with stories and to celebrate the life they lived.
And it’s very easy to celebrate a life such as Clare’s. Perhaps you have a “Clare” in your life? A being of light. A person who is your mentor?
(Photo credit to: Susan Nagle & The Cantata Singers)
I first met Clare as a little girl. I was in love with theater and she was the first person to direct me. I was perhaps 7 or 8 at the time. I don’t remember many things from that age. But I do remember meeting her for the first time. The look of the dirty stage, the way I liked her smile. The way she laughed so easily. It’s almost as if I knew then, in some dark recess of my mind that this woman would be important to my life. That I should take a mental snapshot.
Years went by, and I was a teenager. I was in a show over the summer that she was assistant directing. I watched her work, the questions she asked actors that opened up the scene. The kindness she showed to everyone. I was both in love with who she was, and intimidated by how smart and talented she was. She was a celebrity to me. Someone that I just wanted to be bask in the presence of. Her energy was bright. It enveloped anyone near it.
(Photo credit to: Susan Nagle & The Cantata Singers)
Years went by again- my mother had died, and my world had been rocked. I’d gone to live with a friends parents, and though I know they had taken me in with good intentions it had ended up being much harder than they expected I think. I can only imagine how having another person in the house made their lives more difficult. Especially one who was so confused and sad. But in the process – I was told I was a great many things. A liar, a thief. Someone unlovable. I was told to leave. I had no where to go. And at 18 I was more likely to believe others estimation of me, especially an adults- than to believe what I knew to be the truth. That I didn’t do what I was accused of, and that I was lovable.
Clare became my guidance counselor when I started college that fall. And I don’t exaggerate when I tell you she saved my life. She told me I was no such things. She held me when I sobbed. She gave me tough advice when that’s what I needed to hear. She trusted me. And she taught me to once again trust myself. Over the next years she became in many ways a second mother to me. And I loved her as one.
She directed many shows I was fortunate enough to be a part of. Watching her direct was like watching a surgeon. She would cut away the extraneous part of a scene or dialog. She wouldn’t tell you what a character wanted in a scene, but she would patiently ask you all the questions it took to get you to discover it for yourself.
She helped me with transfer college applications, and then drove me 6 hours to audition at Julliard in NYC herself. We stayed with her family there. When it looked like I might move to Georgia, she arranged for her son to give me a tour of a school there. Just tiny examples of the things she did so selflessly. She was my cheerleader. She was my mentor. She was my friend.
But the thing is – I was just one kid that she mentored in this way. There were so many of us! A ragtag group of kids that wanted so much out of life- but didn’t know how to get there. She would spend her evenings with us, her weekends. She would drive us to shows she thought we should see hours away. She called us all, her “favorites.” Her house was open to us, and a cup of tea in a flowered, fragile, proper teacup was always at the ready.
(Photo credit Susan Nagle & The Cantata Singers 2009. Clare in a scene from “Talking With”)
Some of the things I will most miss about Clare:
- A prayer blessing ( A Chris) on the head before going out on stage, or before any big life event.
- existential talks over an Irish coffee at Horigans Pub.
- Her smell.
- The no fuss way she would wind her dark (then grey) hair up into a twist on the back of her neck.
- The way she would sit in the audience of a show she had seen hundreds of times- laughing super loudly at all the jokes. Gently encouraging the audience to lighten up and laugh too.
- The funny words she used to describe what she wanted to see onstage. “Why are you all in a big blob back there?”
- The way she taught so many of us to understand, and then to love Shakespeare.
- Her ginormous eyes. That expressed so many wonderful emotions with just a look.
- Her love for the Monastery.
- Her fierce mama bear love for her husband and children – and grandchildren.
She taught so many of us, so much about life. And on a personal note I’d like to thank her for the most important thing she taught me. She could easily have been an actor whose name you all recognize. She was a talented artist in her own right. But she put that on hold for something that meant far more to her. Having a family. And as they grew, she incorporated her love for theater into their life. And into hers. The amazing way she did that is their story to tell not mine. But I was, and continue to be so inspired by her love of her family. All of them beautiful people, and in so many ways like her. Passionate. Loving. I thank her forever for that example of what family is.
So now I just ask one thing.
Do you have someone in your life that has been your friend and mentor in this way? Someone that inspires you? Who helped make you who you are? If you do, I urge you to email them. Call them. Send them a note if your shy! But please tell them what they mean to your life.
Do it today.
Do it in honor of Clare.
I know many of you have wonderful memories of Clare. Please feel free to leave some of them below… And if you did not know her, please feel free to pledge below to tell someone you love what they mean to you today.