Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

Life without a Role

I have this recurring nightmare.

I am in an auditorium in front of a crowd, sweating out my fear. Even though I am clothed, I feel naked. It is my turn and I know it. The other actors in the play look at me and wait. There is something I need to say and I can’t remember. In fact, I don’t even know what play I am in. How can I know my line when I don’t know what show we are performing? And what role am I? Am I the hero or his faithful horse? I don’t know. Should I grab a sword and stab the guy to my right me or kiss the girl to my left?

A voice comes from behind the curtain. It is my line. The words are foreign to me but I say them anyway.  Am I in a comedy or a tragedy? The line gave nothing away. I am right back where I started. What do I say next? How can I live from line to line when I don’t know the story, the genre, or my role?

Mercifully, consciousness snatches me from my nightmare. After a few minutes my pulse recedes, but a heaviness remains in my gut—a sickness unto death. No more Kierkegaard before bed.

For more on Kierkegaard, see my last post Life without a Plot.

Can you imagine enduring a play line by line? Yet that is how I too often find myself living. (Perhaps that is why I have this nightmare)

When I was in college, I had no idea what role I was playing. After my dream of playing in the NBA died—much later than it should have died—I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. Should I be an engineer? a philosopher? a musician? I was clueless. So I made the next mistake . . .

. . . I tried to play every role. My Dad had told me that I could be anything I put my mind to (which, in retrospect, was not true because I am far too tall for flying jets) so I put my mind to everything. I would invent new technologies while solving the deep questions of the universe and singing about it all on weekends at the local bar. Foolproof. It was Romeo and Juliet and I was playing both the leads—and Tybalt as well.

Some of this came from my diverse upbringing. But much of it came from an attempt to play the roles others wanted me to play. I had no business being an engineer. I could do the math and the science. I got good grades. It wasn’t my passion though. Engineering was something I should do. So I did it.

What I really want in my life is to play the role I was created to play. What role did the playwright uniquely pen for me? That role is the one I want play. That  role will uncover my latent passions. That role will bring with it satisfaction and purpose. That role is my role.

Now where did I put my script?


[For further thought: In a play, the actor simply recites the lines he has memorized. Life seems very different. We are, in some way, creating the lines as we are reciting them. How does this fit together with the idea that our lives have a bigger story and purpose to them? Add your thoughts below.]

About Josh