Jack Gallagher’s job description is comedian and storyteller. And he is really good at it.
He makes you laugh. He makes you think.
In his latest one-man play at the B Street Theater, “Concussed: Four Days in the Dark,” Gallagher takes the audience through the trauma he experienced after he and his bike collided with a car in Land Park.
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Several days later, after going through his macho “I’m fine” routine, he ended up in the emergency room. He had a concussion. And given all of the ink and TV and radio time spent on discussing concussions among football players, we are familiar with the condition.
Finally, a neurologist prescribed four days in a dark room with no distractions whatsoever, no sights, no sounds, plenty sleep. Obviously, there was lots of thinking and worrying.
He had always been able to find the right words. But now he was frightened, as all of us would be, because he was struggling to find them. Would he ever be able to do it again? Was this the end of his career?
Listening to Gallagher expose his feelings and his fears to dozens and dozens of strangers in a brilliant collection of stories drove home the truth of what has been said time after time: Words matter.
They can make you happy, they can help wipe away your tears, help heal a broken heart, provide hope, and in the mouth of a bully, they can hurt.
For a writer of Gallagher’s caliber perhaps the late Truman Capote said it best: “The greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make.”
Most of us can’t hear that inner music in our own words and that’s why we appreciate them in books and plays and movies, in the lessons from the men and women in the pulpits where we worship, and, yes, in the speeches or remarks of those elected to serve us.
As youngsters, we learned of the wonderful writings of our Founding Fathers encased in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address has never let us forget that government of, for and by the people will not perish. President Roosevelt calmed us in a time of war. President Kennedy’s challenging words inspired thousands of young people to join in public service. Presidents Reagan and Clinton galvanized followers.
And among the things that vanished from the White House when President Obama departed were his eloquence and his deliberate pace as he searched for thoughtful responses to answers from his questioners.
Listen to his words in this one paragraph spoken at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston as a nation mourned the deaths of nine members of that church:
“Over the course of centuries black churches have served as hush harbors, where slaves could worship in safety, praise houses, where their free descendants could gather and sing “Hallelujah,’ rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad, bunkers for the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement.” And then when he spoke of the grace of the grieving families he sang “Amazing Grace,” an anthem of redemption and forgiveness.
How many presidents could have done that?
Now, what we have mainly are tweets, and while 140 characters may be enough to compose a jingle they are hardly enough for a serious opus.
And so many of the tweets are about such things as the incorrect “historic” inaugural crowd, or asking why, months later, there is no investigation of Hillary Clinton’s receiving a debate question in advance. Or they take on a mean-spirited tone, such as falsely accusing the former president of wire-tapping his successor.
Words matter. They matter if you are a comedian and storyteller or the leader of the free world.
When Jack Gallagher finally fled four days of darkness and emerged into light he could finish those lines he had forgotten and once again hear his own inner music. And, as he said, he had learned much about himself.
With heavy curtains, surely the Oval Office could be made dark.
Gregory Favre is the former executive editor of The Sacramento Bee and retired vice president of news for The McClatchy Co. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.