I was raised in the movie generation. And as a result, I prefer lifetimes that last about two hours, or possibly three, if they are really good. Four is too much . . . even for a classic like Gone With the Wind (Exodus and Ben-Hur were pushing their luck, too, of course).
I don’t know about you, but if a motion picture director can’t make me fall in love with a character within the first quarter-hour, and then portray his or her life’s tragedies and triumphs in an action packed or dramatically scintillating way within the remaining time allotted, I will not be impressed. That’s life!
Or is it?
My own life’s experience, of course, does not support this view of things. For although the triumphs and tragedies of my life have often been marked by specific moments in time, the build up to those moments and the aftermath of those moments span a much longer period of time.
And we all know this, don’t we?
We often rehearse the fact that when an accomplished performer stands before an audience and entertains them in a way that seems almost effortless, he or she appears that way because of countless hours of grueling practice and arduous preparation. I’ll never forget a banjo playing friend of mine (Dave) who told me he used to do 1,000 Earl Scruggs style finger rolls each day so that he could play bluegrass banjo. There simply are no shortcuts to excellence.
Often, however, it seems we want to reduce the story of our own lives to something that approximates the length of a feature film. We get bored with ourselves, I suppose. Much ink has been spilled over the illustration of our fast food mentality. I sit and write this blog today in a McDonald’s, surrounded by the loud voices of playing children scurrying about, too excited to eat their Big Mac or finish their orange drink. The sticky table top I had to wash off before placing my own brand of Mac on the surface is testimony to the speed we have come to expect when we eat.
“Time waits for no man,” we often quote. And now, man has returned the favor; he no longer has time to wait for anything.
I have recently been made acutely aware of this because of a diet that my wife and daughter are on; they have to watch their sodium intake. As a result, virtually no canned goods can be eaten; fruits and vegetables must be fresh. And guess what? My sodium intake has decreased as well (which makes my blood pressure happier, I am sure). Preparation time, however, has increased dramatically. There is virtually no “eating out” on this plan. And there is absolutely NO FAST FOOD at all.
The result? Weight loss. Improved health. No impulse purchasing of food. And I am sure that ensuing blood work will show even more beneficial results.
Our lives. Yours and mine. Take time to develop. They can be condensed in a short story, or briefly portrayed in a movie, but they cannot be lived that way.
Two days ago was the fourth anniversary since my father’s death. I visited the cemetery where his and mother’s ashes are interred. Another man and his wife were present, on the other side of the shrub from my parents’ markers. They were visiting their daughter Amanda’s grave. She passed on the same day as my father, just one year after him. She was seventeen. Her parents stood there together, then they kneeled . . . then they left fresh yellow roses by her grave.
We spoke briefly. Cancer had taken their daughter. “She was our whole world,” they said. Then her mother added, “she still is.”
Our lives are culminations of countless individual moments. We long to find marking points, so we collect them in categories like birth, school age, graduation, marriage, retirement, etc. But the time in between these markers, the building blocks that go together to fashion tiny events into points of culmination, these we tend to want to speed up, or pass over, or altogether dismiss.
We dare not do so. For if we do . . . we may find ourselves immersed in the tiring and endless search for the significant moments of our lives, the sound bite approach to summing up our existence; our attempt to condense our own lives simultaneously while living them.
You cannot successfully edit your life. It’s not a movie. Amanda’s parents would gladly repeat any of the most boring and mundane moments of her life; reruns that would easily have been cut and left on the studio floor. For you see, each piece, each moment no matter how ordinary, is an indispensable part of the whole. And without it . . . the markers would simply not exist. Culmination demands a long series of less than scintillating events. That is, indeed, the way life is.
And learning that, seeing that, truly knowing that (accepting it deep in one’s heart) is one of the keys to a life of satisfaction and meaningfulness. Drama? Not so much. And action packed? Well . . . on occasion, let’s say.
Can you live with that? Because that’s how life unfolds.