The Philip Seymour Hoffman in my Granddaddy

The latest news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, and clearly his last days, calls out a reminder.

It’s easy to believe such an addict is a party-loving hedonist. A self-obsessed pleasure junkie seduced by a lifestyle as much as a drug. Sure such an addict exists. But that archetype is simply a template of a deeper human tragedy.

My grandfather was an opium addict. Paregoric killed him far before I was born, and my novel, She-Rain, became the shovel that let me dig into his life. The book cut me an entryway into the grave that was his spiritual tragedy. His life became an opiate-walled tomb long before he lay for his last breath. No, I’m not twaddling around making excuses for him. He’s accountable for his premature death. He’s responsible for not living to hold his grandson. But the writing spade me into his humanity. In his brokenness, each of us can see some portion of our own frailty.

In She-Rain, I sought to illustrate the tragic folly of trying to incubate a life in a syringe. But much more than this, the book reveals the humanity of every addict, and everyone wounded at the point of that needle.

She-Rain is haunted by this, and more. In the book, the son of that opium addicted father believes he sees his father’s ghost on a roadside. He’s sure he hears the resurrected man whisper, “You belong, son.”

I never got to hear my grandfather say such to me. He died an addict nearly bereft of his great human dignity. But writing of him in a work of fiction, I hear his voice, and a truth he never understood for himself until it was too late. Those words “You belong” remind me I belong to real life, not despair and tragedy and indignity. I believe the spirit of my granddad knows now, beyond this mortal world, he belonged to something greater than he could see. He needed no numbing opiate to achieve peace after all.

And so it is with Philip Seymour Hoffman. In him we find giant of a talent and a haunting to match. Now it’s reported he wrote, in a set of diaries found in his apartment, of being plagued by demons. So this sets me to wondering. As a grandson and son of addicts, I wonder, do addicts think themselves alone? Tragically so? Do they live in a self-imposed exile, deeming themselves different from the world? Set apart from a humanity that will never understand the sufferings ghosting around in them? I believe their demons are the same ones after us all — perfectionism, shame, old malice, rusting dents of childhood and the ever renewing sense of never being good enough. Perhaps because they can’t be vulnerable enough to share their ghosts with the world, they turn to the likes of heroin, or gin. They graffiti the psyche until the authentic self is painted over. My granddad had his own devils, and hiding them with a spray of paregoric cost him, everything, long before that last breath. I believe in the weeks before he died, he scarcely recognized his image in a mirror or even the thoughts of his own mind.

After I posted an RIP tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman, I heard from a woman who knew of Philip’s kindness, his apparently gentle way with the world, his refusal to let celebrity and giftedness give him amnesia of where he came from. There was enormous goodness in the man, clearly. Yes, a man in need of tough love, that he was. But those who believe condemnation of the man is the only stout brand of tough love show weakness, not strength. They prove condemnation is an addiction all its own. I heard from one of those condemning personality types, as well. I believe that person is perhaps Hoffman in reverse — deeming his demons lesser, not greater, than those of the souls around him.

So I write this in hope — the steely muscle of it. I hope Philip’s children, his partner, all who loved him hear the words “You belong.” You belong to a life carried on an updraft, far upward of the cesspool life and death in which your beloved was found. Your Philip was not your problem to solve, and you do not belong to his inner torments. He chose his elixirs that kill and denied all of us his enormous God-granted gifts that were to be. Be angry with him, for a time. But resist the drugs of pride and bravado and unforgivenness. Don’t take them, expecting hurt to diminish, or authentic strength to rise. Authentic strength is found in true vulnerability, radical and daring love — yes, even of the self.

In this, may we all hear, and live by, the words, “You belong.” Authentic strength is born of the humility that says we are a common humanity with an uncommon God, to whom we all belong, after all.


4 Responses to “The Philip Seymour Hoffman in my Granddaddy”

  1. Mark Hildebrandt Says:

    Beautully written as always. I agree not as many as thought are into “partying” there is extreme stress and pain.

  2. Thank you for this Michael. The sadness of feeling we don’t belong is in the heart and mind of so many in this world at this time. The very reason there is an epidemic of suicides by one form or another.
    God help us all to step out of ourselves and give love and caring to others, as we are all God’s children. The joy in giving, and remembering to be grateful for our blessings…even the tiny ones, is so beautiful and precious. Love, laugh, dream, BELIEVE.

  3. Michael I have seen first hand how drugs ( in this case fentanyl) can cause all the pains & hurts you describe. My brother was a person who lived in a world of feeling unwanted & kept all his pain inside. He chose to let drugs take away all he had. Those feelings were not warranted, it was all the selfishness of why me? He was loved by so many & had so many good qualities that had they been utilized he would have accomplished so much! Once those demons of drug addictions take hold then nothing else matters. He even said that himself! So now a father & mother have lost a son, a daughter & son their father & I my brother. Not to mention the wife who loved him dearly but had to move on with her life because he only wanted that next high! If only people realized what that first taste can lead to!

  4. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death makes us all examine where we are and where we have come from…Although I have never struggled with the temptations of drug addition, I have my own personal shortcomings…And in spite of them, I awaken every day to struggle to make some good of my life…I want to believe that that is the case with most people…But sometimes circumstances, events and desires lead some down a path to destruction…Everyone should seek inner strength to focus on the fact that, it is the end that counts, and choose at every moment aiming for the best end possible…

    WAHM Shelley…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: