In early 2005, I saw the great African-American playwright August Wilson accept an award from the Chicago Tribune. In October of that year, Wilson died suddenly at age 60 from a recent cancer diagnosis.
In June 2015, I traveled to Hawaii to attend a Hay House writing workshop taught by the great spiritual author and speaker Wayne Dyer. Two months later, Dyer died unexpectedly from a heart attack.
Why am I always catching great writers on their way out? When I posed this question to my funny friend Serena, she replied mischievously, “Maybe you’re doing it” (I’m not).
Here’s my theory: both these men died at the precise moment that their life’s work was complete.
Wilson is a shining example. In 1984, he began an ambitious project called the Century Cycle, for which he wrote 10 plays charting the African-American experience throughout the twentieth century (one play for each decade). His goal was to “raise consciousness through theatre” about the everyday struggles and triumphs of Black American men and women. Two of those plays won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, and all of them are performed and taught regularly in theaters and classrooms around the world.
Wilson died 6 months after the final play in the cycle, Radio Golf, debuted at the Yale Repertory Theatre. I’m not sure he could have died before that play was finished. He believed that strongly in his vision.
Wayne Dyer was fond of saying, “don’t die with your music still inside you;” in other words, don’t leave this earth before your purpose is fulfilled.
There’s a fascinating connection to Wilson’s plays here. An intensely spiritual writer himself, Wilson often referred to his characters’ search for their “songs.” Scholars have posited that in his plays, the word “song” is symbolic for “soul:” finding your song means doing your soul’s work.
Some of us are lucky enough to already know what our song is. In that case, we trust that we are guided – and we listen closely for the Universe to sing us our next step.
Some of us are on this earth to help others find their song. These are perhaps the teachers among us, the therapists, the healers, the life coaches.
Some of us want to be singing a different song but don’t quite know what it is (I’ve heard this book can help).
Others of us know in our hearts what our passion is. We just haven’t yet found the courage to follow it – but we all can.
I once heard a yoga teacher say that our souls vibrate to the song the Universe was singing at the time of our birth. So maybe our adult selves just need to remember that tune.
In Wilson’s play Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, there’s a mystical character named Bynum who uses a “Binding Song” to reunite loved ones separated during the Great Migration, when Black men and women traveled north searching for better lives and jobs after the end of slavery. Earlier in his life, Bynum had seen a vision of a Shiny Man (perhaps a deity in disguise) and an ancestor who said:
“...there was lots of shiny men and if I ever saw one again before I died then I would know that my song had been accepted and worked its full power in the world and I could lay down and die a happy man.”
In the final scene, the most troubled character in the play, Seth, becomes a Shiny Man before Bynum’s eyes. He’s the affirmation of Bynum’s life purpose.
My hope is that August Wilson too caught a glimpse of a Shiny Man before he passed away.
And my hope for all of you is that you have found your song, and that you are singing it out from your heart. After all, the world has been waiting for it.
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