It’s strange to read an obituary of someone you knew in high school. It is particularly poignant in the wee hours of the day after Memorial Day.
I learned about his death from a friend on Facebook, who was understandably shocked. Sadly, I know of a few other classmates who have died as well. I even went to a service for one of them, Troy Sikel, another talented man and fellow actor, despite my aversions to crowds and strangers.
The latest, Daren VanDewalker, I knew from wandering into the high school theater one day. What I was doing there I really don’t know. It was probably partly my brother’s influence, who had caught the acting bug a few years before.
I remember one day our teacher, who I can still hear bellowing my name as if I’m in some sort of trouble, wanted us to do some improv. Daren was sitting in a big circle with a group of us students. Everyone was having a raucous, good time. I was mostly just watching that day. I don’t recall doing much improvisation myself. I do remember being fascinated by the camaraderie.
Another memory is one time being given the task of acting the part of a man who had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I had no idea what to do, so I just reacted to what my compatriot, the doctor, said. It was amazingly effective. I’ve heard famous actors say that the key to acting is listening. It’s very true.
Understated is often best, I learned. Our drama teacher had given me that assignment, at least in part, because I was often very prone to comedic buffoonery, rather than serious drama. Many of my roles in the various plays during my four years offered comedic relief, and I loved doing it.
Now, however, I’m much less the attention seeker, though I cherish those memories. I’ve reverted back to my introverted self. Today, I’m more of a recluse.
Life is certainly fickle. His death is a reminder that we are temporal. We must live in the moment and cherish every minute. I need to remember these harsh life lessons.
Daren, a mere 42 years old, barely more than a year older than myself, died from a stroke. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, his wife and four kids, and his sister, Denise.