Phillip Symour Hoffman and Uncle Jin


I was at the gym this morning when breaking news flashed across the television screen in front of me, saying Phillip Seymour Hoffman has died. He was 46 years old. I have come to like his acting a lot. I thoroughly enjoyed “Doubt” where he played a catholic Father alongside Meryl Streep to great effect. For one reason or another I have never got around to watching “Capote” and so probably missed his most acclaimed performance.

I was quickly scanning his responses to interviews about how he struggled to cope with everyday activities. He said something to the effect that he, like many people, woke up each morning and struggled in wondering if he knew he was going to spend the day doing something that he would feel good about at the end of that day so that he could end that day sleeping well.

I guess that struggle often meant he didn’t think so which lead to his reported problems with heroin. Like many people, I guess when a celebrity who performs heroically on screen reveals such vulnerability there is a certain level of comfort on the part of plebs like me. And yet it also reveals how we can over-rate the role of performance and making a difference in the workspace.

Work, like a mate of mine often said, is a means to an end. In as much as it takes a huge chunk of our time, performance should probably make a difference in other spheres more than in work. I’m sure many would not share this view. Work and its focus, and centrality in life, tends to underpin wealth creation and wellness of one’s body and to a lesser extent, soul. To relegate it to any other level can feel like a cop out. Yet it looks like it is the source of turmoil and lair of demons to souls like Hoffman.

Tress and I visited Uncle Jin in his home at Point Cook over the weekend and the simplicity of life appears to be the takeaway. Here’s a wealthy man who now confronts the vagaries of life in the form of medical uncertainty. His wife is a pillar of strength but has her moments of weakness. All he wants now is knowledge of what confronts him and what that means to the future. His future. His wife’s future. His soon to be married daughter’s future. The future of all of his children and his grandchildren.

All Tress and I could do is to be there for him. We didn’t perform in a way that made a difference. Sometimes one doesn’t have tasks to be accomplished to make a difference. I hope we made a difference simply by being there. But it doesn’t matter. It is not about us making a difference. It is about the welfare of those around us. Or are they just different sides to a coin? Maybe. But when we focus on just one side as we often do, something doesn’t sit right…

I hope Uncle Jin finds peace soon. I hope the doctors give him positive news and soon. I hope he finds true peace – peace with God – soon.

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