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Orphan Wisdom "Night of Grief and Mystery" Tour in Roanoke October 17th

Stephen Jenkinson

An unusual theater performance examines what it means to die well.  "Night of Grief & Mystery" is an evening of wondering aloud, in music and spoken word, about longing, love and death. As part of its north American tour, the show will stop in Roanoke  October 17th.

Stephen Jenkinson is a Harvard educated theologian who worked in hospice and palliative care in Canada for 20 years.  A Night of Mystery and Grief has been called, “Part poetry, part lamentation, part book reading, part ribaldry, part concert, part lifting the mortal veil….”

“Allow me to welcome you to the dust, the dust of uncertainty” he chants, “…and that gaggle of opinion and of faith that is the ending of days….”  Joining Jenkinson are guitarist, Gregory Hoskins, Colleen Hodgson (bass and vocals) Adam Bowman (drums) and Lisa Hodgson (keys and vocals).

The performance explores death and dying. It is also about living and being alive to the fact that death is not hypothetical, some vague whispered rumor, that happens only to someone else. There is no doubt, Jenkinson reminds his audience.  It’s coming for you. So, you might as well be present to that reality body, mind, and soul.

“I have the good fortune, but the burdensome good fortune of having attended hundreds of people as they died and at the moment and somewhat afterwards— and I've caught a glimpse of my own. It is one of the fringe benefits of the job.” He says with a wry smile. 

His experience in what he refers to as, ‘The Death Trade,’ inspired him to write a book called, “Die Wise, A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul.” It asks, that when death is imminent, instead of turning away, pretending it's not happening, that people fully and deeply experience it in what he calls “all its painful beauty.” Not an easy task and not one that's part of the current culture around death in the 21st century. 

“What does ‘A Night of Grief and Mystery’ ask from anyone? What does it promise?”  He asks the audience and then answers wryly; “Oh, I have an idea where the monsters are!”

This dissonance around death led Jenkinson to travel the world, spreading the word about what it means to ‘die wise’, giving a kind of concert slash encounter session on the end of life. “They granted me a visa to perform in cognitive dissonance on the general public. It's the opposite of entertainment!” he warns with a shout.

Jenkinson also founded something called the Orphan Wisdom School. Its name, a reference to a loss of continuity among the generations, sense of place and belonging, that's disappearing in much of the developed world. “If dying doesn't change everything, you can finally love living. You can lose track of whether you are or not, when you glimpse the end.” 

“His work is about so much more than ‘end of life.’ Says Christie Ratcliffe, who lives in Floyd. “It's about everything. It's about the whole of life and living with integrity.” Ratcliffe took courses at Jenkinson's Orphan Wisdom School while she was studying to become a Doula, which is an end of life caregiver. 
“He speaks of the deep grief that all of us Anglo Saxons and basically anybody who's not living on their ancestral land, with an intact ancestral culture. (It’s a) “…small handful of people, on the planet right now. We are all orphaned from our culture, from true culture and a lot of us don't even walk on the land that our ancestors’ bodies have returned to. So, our psyche is really missing a lot because of that.” 

Ratcliffe grew up in southwestern Virginia’s Franklin County, met her husband at Virginia Tech and moved with him to Australia, returning home when their children were born. She now lives Floyd and continues to follow Jenkinson's work, helping to get this upcoming performance in Roanoke added to the tour. 

“Any evening that calls itself ‘grief and mystery,’ it's got to have love in there somewhere!” Jenkinson promises the audience – to music. Part of proceeds from the show will go to The Springhouse School, a small, intentional, community school in Floyd where they studied Jenkinson's teachings, including his newest book, “Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble.” 

Jenkinson and his ensemble will perform a night of grief and mystery October 17th at the Five Points Music Foundation in Roanoke. The profits will be shared with the Springhouse School in Floyd.

For tickets click here

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.