Thursday, 7 October 2010

Dan Gordon-Levitt 1974-2010

Sliding along a sinuous highway through the chilly Santa Cruz Mountains, tracing the San Andreas fault seemed the right place to be at that moment. Although it had been growing colder each morning just inland of the northern California coast, the heated cabin air felt unbearably chest-heavy, unbreathable. As the windows dropped, the cold wind tore in, drawing close the swirling, pungent smell of sage and wild grasses. The gamey, powerful notes of the sax solo in Pink Floyd’s “Dogs of War” shook the rearview mirror, wiry and lanky and strong, undeniably charismatic. Like Dan.

But Dan is gone.

The thought made no sense. Victim of a soul-search gone awry, with another in the hospital perhaps not far behind, it felt achingly stupid and all kinds of wrong.

A chiseled and wilder-looking version of his younger brother, Dan embodied the “flow” he so earnestly practiced--in his movements, his worldly fearlessness, his written words, his skill in carefully drawing out and inspiring others. His ability to create profound imagery, to imbue a story with a potent sense of place, was impressive. (See "everything I do" on Dan's site for more.)

Dan was fit and active, a risk-taker, embracing the dangers inherent in deeply discovering life. Fire was more than his art form. It was his totem. He gave warmth to those who surrounded him, illuminated a path for those who followed, and was as beautiful, powerful, and mesmerizing as any spinning torch. He appeared entirely unafraid of life’s vicissitudes.

There was something innately childlike and charming about the immediacy and depth of the fraternal devotion between Dan and his younger brother, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, when I saw the two together. Having seen Joe’s unself-conscious idolization of “My Big Brother, My First Super Hero”, my heart aches.

As a sister, I remember how deep-seated was the need to protect my brother from harm, when we were kids. And although we’re now adults, the feeling stubbornly persists. With 6 years between us, I can remember a time when my brother was not yet in the world--the thought of his passing out of it again seems all too real and scary, and he’s been close more than once. Joe has not ever known a world without his older brother in it. Like losing a limb, I can only imagine the ache of neurons remembering replete what is now negative space, reaching out for the physical entity that slips like the last tendrils of smoke from a flame consummated. The only recourse for those that remain is to huddle together in that empty place. As our collective warmth grows, it does not replace Dan’s heat, but diminishes, in however small a measure, the chill felt at losing him.

When a soul leaves behind family and friends, the loss is deep--and burning. When the circle of that person’s energy and influence is as wide as Dan’s, like a low-lying grassfire it travels swiftly and leaves an extensive scar. Yet it does not kill the way we think it does. In the chaparral-covered hills of southern California, the ecosystem is fire-adapted; much of the biota actually need fire in order to complete a full life cycle and make room for the next generation. In the same way, our sorrow over the loss of Dan Gordon-Levitt will eventually give way to regrowth, new ideas born of his influence.

It feels like an eternity from fire season to winter rains. But when those clouds come, they eventually bring life-giving moisture, driving nutrients back into the soil. Memories once again become the seeds of renewal and inspiration. And the sun’s return refocuses its light on rebirth.

Dan’s circle of fire has not drawn to a close. A circle never ends. It is a symbol of the universe’s cyclical nature, a reminder that energy is never created or destroyed, merely changed in form and location. He is, perhaps, more present than he has ever been. May all who knew him, in whatever capacity, remain inspired by Dan’s spirit, his fiery ring of light, and share that inspiration as our circle grows, burning brighter with each laugh, each kind word, each cheer. WE have become the circle, now.

With joyful leap and Cheshire Cat grin, Dan would surely have appreciated that thought.

Fire photo: copyright Dan Gordon-Levitt,, 2006 (borrowed in grateful memory)

From sorrows to celebrations, Angela has written numerous posts about surviving life with a little inspiration at the Silicon Valley Mom's Blog. When she isn't practicing Wing Chun Kung Fu, she also shares her training trials at From Basic Training to Black Sash: A Mother's Wing Chun Journey. This is an original post to World of Words. You can follow her on Twitter: @AngelOrr

Although Angela has been on a semi-hiatus while she builds a new web site, she's constantly creating something somewhere.