"Courage, above all things, is the first quality of a warrior."- Carl Von Clausewitz
I recently hosted a showing of the deeply moving documentary, Be Here Now, The Andy Whitfield Story at the Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica. At the height of his career as the star of the television series Spartacus, Andy became ill with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. If you're going to get cancer, they say in the film, this is the one to have because it can be curable, but tragically that was not the case for Andy, and he died while the movie was made at 39.
As a mindfulness meditation teacher, I was immediately drawn to the title, Be Here Now. Seeing it tattooed on Andy, and his beautiful wife, Vashti's arm indicated to me that this was their shared mantra, and that being present, and "making it about the journey" as they said, was how they were going to handle the grueling hardship they were facing together each day.
Director Lilibet Foster brings us into the Whitfield's lives so intimately, and shows us what living with cancer looks like, which includes many private and raw moments between Andy and Vashti that some people might not feel comfortable allowing for if they were in their shoes. They decided to look cancer straight in the face and talk about it, and expose it for what it is. Watching such a handsome Hollywood star who played a gladiator that looked as if he could withstand anything physical, show us his vulnerability, and talk so openly and candidly about his illness is admirable, and never once do you sense self-pity. But that didn't mean that Andy and Vashti wouldn't allow themselves to feel frightened that he wasn't going to make it, which they both show us in their own way at different times. As much as they were trying to remain strong for each other, the possibility of losing someone you love is so overwhelmingly unbearable that it's almost impossible to not slip into uncertainty and doubt, even when you're trying to stay hopeful.
Vashti feared that there wouldn't be enough time to beat the cancer, having lost a friend of hers to it, and Andy, at one point, looked as if he was resigned to his fate, having endured what seemed like endless rounds of brutal chemotherapy and radiation, as well as going to India for alternative treatments. When he said "things happen for a reason" and that he felt "liberated," it gave me the feeling that maybe he glimpsed into the possibility of not being there one day to watch his two gorgeous children grow up, or continue being a husband to the woman he clearly loved so very much. Perhaps there was a feeling of inner peace for him as his body was becoming more weak and weary.
To be in the now means you are fully present with total awareness, which both Andy and Vashti were on this painful journey together. They knew they were blessed to walk beside one another in this life, and fortunate to have the years together that they did. Their love for one another is palpable, and it's devastating that Andy's life was cut far too short.
He played a bigger than life character in Spartacus, but an even larger one in real life. Andy was a mighty warrior, and although he was unable to conquer his illness, which required so much more than a sword and armor, he was valiant as he stepped into the now over and over again until he succumbed to the ultimate moment of now when he left this earth as he did, moaning the words "I love you" to Vashti, which she describes as sounding like "Rocky."
Andy looked ethereal and other worldly towards the end of his life, and with his bald head and graceful smile, it made me think that he was leaving enlightened, as if he had accomplished what he was meant to do in this incarnation. With a glimmer in his eyes, which always seemed to be there, his spirit looked ready to take flight, and according to Vashti and the children, it has visited them in the form of a butterfly, which symbolizes transformation.
Andy is truly "in the now" which is eternal.