I find solace in the ocean. The past few years, I’ve become very grateful to learn that there is healing there. I’ve lost two friends in those years and went on the nights of their passing, with Shane, to sit by the sea and weep. My tears feel small there. Maybe it’s because my salt-water droplets are so small compared to it. Maybe because it’s so open and non-judgmental. Maybe it’s because right when you see the sun set over the water and you think that day’s sun won’t ever be the same, the stars faintly start to glimmer… Friday, Shane called with sad news… “ Jason Chin passed away.”
In 2003, we had just moved from Pittsburgh to Chicago and were so excited to be in a city that was new and sparkling to us. We’d saved up and packed up and traveled with our college sketch group to our new apartment that we shared as a pack of wild animals. We had made it to the comedy capital of the world. And we had no idea what we were doing.
One day, Shane Portman and I decided to visit Improv Olympic. We had moved to Chicago to focus on sketch, but we knew we were surrounded by the best of the best improv and when we accidentally passed the theatre, we wanted to go in. It was daylight; we were surprised the door opened. It smelled musty and was dark. The little entrance way was like a big walk-in closet and led to some stairs on the left, a velvet, draping curtain on the right. Old, loved photos of performers we recognized took up every inch of wall space. But there was no one there. We thought we should leave, but we felt we should stay. And we felt like being sneaky. We peeked through the curtain to what seemed like a basement with a ramp to a stage. But the stairs were calling our name. Back to the little entranceway, one foot on a stair, one look at a new photo, another stair, another photo, creeping and giggling all the way up. We thought we were doing something no one had ever done and that no one would ever know. The door at the top of the stairs opened. It led to a bigger theatre, it was all dark, we tip toed through the wide space toward the other end where there was a door filled with light. Eyes skimming the dark, hearts racing, mouths whispering, so excited to be in such a cool place, we made it to the door, first face, then head, then neck, deciding which way to turn, and then all of my fight-or-flight chemicals tumbled over my body. We were caught- by Jason R. Chin.
In the tiny moments between my brain recognizing “There is a human here after all, he sees us and is inhaling to speak” and the moments when he actually spoke, I thought we were going to jail. Maybe not jail, but maybe jail, I just remember freaking out. But, instead, Jason’s wide smile warmed everything. We learned that when Jason catches you, he welcomes you. He not only was fine with us wandering the theatre, he offered to show us around even further. He showed us the classrooms, the office, and in the honest way he did these simple things, he showed us his spirit. His open heart was the first clue that we had found a home.
Years later, I remember we helped him move. I don’t remember packing any boxes, although we must have? All I remember is that we left with treasured things that Jason gave us. Something tall and skinny- a lamp that I thought was very fancy, props and costumes that mean so much to people devoting their lives to sketch comedy, and an Apple airport. I remember we didn’t have nice enough computers to use it, but I clutched it like the Holy Grail and felt the pride of a new father when I saw its shiny Wally-like dome. Silly things now, but things that are good feelings when I remember them. Shane and I couldn’t remember if other people helped us help Jason move and my first thought was “We could ask Jason, he’ll remember.”
But what I remember most about him was that he was there. He was beaming. His support was constant. His encouragement palpable without speaking. He made me laugh. He made me beam. He seemed to have high expectations and no judgment at the same time. He was stability for a thousand children who had only experienced pockets of it growing up. And his hugs squeezed you into portals to all of these things.
Friday, I wept when I found out, but only for a while. I was taking care of my Mama and she took care of me back by holding me while I cried. But I couldn’t really let go until I got home at night. As soon as I saw Shane, the wave of tears was done waiting. “Can we go to iO?” I needed to be there. To hold the walls, my friends, his friends. We didn’t know about the toast until after it had happened and thought we should go anyway. As we were leaving the house, I remembered, “The ocean, maybe we need to go to the ocean. Maybe afterwards…”
We barely walked through the door and face after face, that welcoming that he was to us, everyone was there with open arms. For each other, for him.
Thank you guys for being my ocean. My tears seem small next to the vast sea of love pouring out for our friend. Thank you Jason, for being you and being here for all of us. You still are. Here with this wide ocean of family you helped make. I haven’t seen you in six years, but I can feel your hugs.