Goell always said that humor was “intrinsic to my survival,” and she maintained her sense of humor. Last week, Avner heard “gales of laughter” coming from the bedroom and went running to check on the situation. He found Goell and a caregiver laughing so hard, they were crying. Using her letter board, Goell managed to spell — painstakingly, one letter at a time, “Quick, Look behind you.”
That was Julie Goell, who I was lucky to meet and have as one of my teachers. I came to know her only briefly, and only after a tragically unfair medical condition had robbed her of much of her ability to move and speak.
I'm told despite taking her life at the end, it never took her mind or her heart. The fighter in me is proud to know that.
At the time we connected, every word was clearly an exhausting and frustrating struggle.
She chose each one carefully, and for maximum effect. Despite it clearly taking a lot out of her, she took the time to have a one-on-one talk with each of the students in my class for critical notes about our work.
I don't remember which exercise we spoke about. What I will always remember vividly was our narrowing down to a specific moment she wanted to tell me about, and then I received exactly one sentence worth of commentary from the legendary Julie Goell:
"For that moment, you were not quite so full of shit."
It was hilarious. It was also the thing I needed to hear most.
For all of the teachers who have busted my chops about being too clever or hiding behind too much shtick, Julie was the first mentor to show me a moment where I was actually being real. For all the "No" I have heard about my work as a clown, Julie gave me my first "Yes" and in doing so showed me the path to follow to find more of them.
I'm still too clever, and sometimes I still hide, but I want to be as brave as Julie someday.