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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

Evan Handler: It's Only Temporary

As managing editor for a national magazine (a job that was downsized away just in time for Christmas), I looked at a lot of books for possible excerpting. Not long ago I received one that claimed that the nature of the Spirit is not fearful, confused, resentful, weak, or overwhelmed, but instead it is powerful, vital, fearless, content, and compassionate. That sounds awfully nice, but I found myself wondering how the author knew this. He started out by saying that, per Genesis, we are created in the image of God. Well, my image and the images of everyone I have ever met (including a whole slew of spiritual teachers) include fear, confusion, anger, etc. So why aren’t those qualities as much a part of our essential nature as all the blissful stuff?

I prefer a notion of spirit with a small “s.” This spirit lives inside all of us, and it is beautifully described in a book called It’s Only Temporary (Riverhead, 2008) by actor/author Evan Handler. A chapter titled “I Don’t Know” states our plight so nakedly:
“I am fascinated by our conundrum as humans living on planet Earth,” writes Handler. “I’ve said to friends, probably more times than they’ve wanted to hear, ‘We live in outer space. Do you know that? Can you believe it? We live in outer space.’ It’s a crucial thing to remind myself, because it justifies and enhances my choice to remain committed to philosophical non-commitment. We do not know where we live. We have no idea of our own address. . . . we have no idea what substance contains us, where it came from or where it’s headed, if it has a purpose or what it might be, how it started, or how long it will last.”

I love this quote. I love the title and subtitle of this book — It’s Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive. And by the end of the book I loved Evan Handler and was flooded with gratitude for life itself.

Although he probably doesn’t remember it, Evan and I have met several times. Long before he was a “TV face” (Harry Goldenblatt on Sex and the City), I saw Evan perform in a play at the Public Theater on the lower east side of New York City. He played an uncoordinated geek. I don’t remember the play’s plot. I don’t remember the other actors. But I remember Evan’s performance as one of the most perfect expressions of anything I have ever witnessed. When I met him a couple of years after the performance at a summer theater retreat, when I met the real person — an attractive, pensive, quietly sizzling young guy with an exciting intelligence — I was even more bowled over by his performance. When I heard a couple of years later that this amazing person had been flattened by acute leukemia, I cried and sent a check to the Save Evan Handler Fund. And when he survived against all odds and did a one-man show about the experience, I couldn’t buy my ticket fast enough.

It was for this reason that I wanted to read his new book. Evan Handler takes risks. He admits his flaws in stories of botched romances. He risks revealing his arrogance, his impatience, his messiness, his narcissism, and his big juicy heart. And most of all, he risks changing. He risks saying “Maybe I was wrong.” He risks living as huge as is humanly and spiritually possible. He risks everything as only a huge spirit can … which is probably why he’s still alive.

Many of us long to be big spirits; many of us long to know such people. But there’s a funny irony about bigness. Really big spirits are often colossal pains in the butt who make lots of people very uncomfortable. (Just think of our history. Now think even further back, and you’ll know what I’m saying. Not that Evan Handler is one of those guys.) My point is that being totally human, excruciatingly funny, so perfectly imperfect, and so wonderfully honest about it all will always annoy people who do not want to live at that level of intensity or who prefer an air-brushed version of Spirit. So living — and expressing — this way is a risk. This book is a risk. It is a mandate to live big.

So to all of you big livers (not to mention, pancreases, lungs, and spleens), I’m sending this message:

Run and get this brilliant, funny, exquisitely written new book about looking for love, falling on your face, loving, hating, loving life, loving, and shifting into a different perspective of loving. You will not be able to put down It’s Only Temporary, and it may make your heart do such great big things that you end up feeling your own greatness. (Did I say the book is about loving?)

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