}

Nicole Ari ParkerYvette Gatson TunstullElizabeth Catlett

 

 

 

 

“Funerals are pretty compared to death”…these words struck me as I sat in the darkened theater last night, alongside our godson Ricon Wrenn, at the previews of A Streetcar Named Desire. These words are spoken by the Blanche DuBois character, as the dread of a life she was forced to escape from reverberated through her own downward spiral…portrayed convincingly by Nicole Ari Parker, the striking actor in the new Stephen Byrd Broadway production…I was pulled into her journey.

These spoken words resonated for me because of the recent passing of, both, my sister-in-law, Yvette Gatson Tunstull and the celebrated artist Elizabeth Catlett, on the same day, and the sudden awareness of the noise of dying that seems to go unnoticed by those not there. At the funeral, “they are wrapped up and put in a box, and everything is covered in flowers,” Blanche says in the play, and the vocalized pain and struggle of holding on, finally passes quietly into the night.

Yvette had fought cancer for over ten years, having to change her life in big and small ways, always with dignity and an eye to the future. Her focus and concern were not for herself but for her sons, Lloyd and Ryon, her husband Ron and her family. The cries at night could not be constrained but, by day a smile of fortitude masked her unrelenting struggle. With her ebbing energy she focused on Ryon, giving him a lifetime of a mother’s love, affection and guidance.

With Elizabeth Catlett and the tributes about her immense body of inspiring artwork that seem to capture the mettle of our people – enduring ongoing challenges of living through impoverished conditions and institutional discrimination – the two women seemed to have a similar resilience to me. Catlett’s drawn, etched and sculpted heroes of the past reflect the same determination existing today in so many of us. It may not be the scorch of the sun on one’s back or the bite of snow on one’s shoeless feet, as told from the past, but the fortitude of prior generations still coursing through our veins that allow us to repel the pain of suffering with greater strength.

Blanche DuBois loses her battle to hold onto a romanticized reality of her life by the end of the play…as she exits “stage left” on the arm of a stranger who muffles her own pleadings. She, like most, can learn from Elizabeth and Yvette the power of quiet resilience when the time comes.

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