In the late afternoon of March 28, 2009 I was traveling down a rainy street in my 2000 Chevy Metro when a young girl armed with a learner’s permit turned in front of me, causing me to hit her just behind the passenger side of her car (where her mother was seated). I barely had time to apply any brakes at all.
Thankfully, no one was seriously injured, just bruised. As a matter of fact, I was on the way to the local fire station to have my blood pressure checked when the accident occurred. And since the fire truck happened to be leaving a retirement facility at the same intersection when the crash occurred, first responders were at my side in mere moments (by the way, my systolic pressure was 190 when they took it immediately after the crash – not the kind of number I was going for, but . . .).
Since the air bag had deployed the car was totaled (small, older vehicles like that are not worth the cost of air bag installation). I talked with my father about it all on the telephone not many days after the crash; of course, I had no idea that within a few days he would be gone from this earth. This was the last conversation we ever had.
Needless to say, the Five Forks Trickum Road and Tom Smith Road intersection is memorable to me.
I never pass through that intersection without remembering that day. Never! And I am there often. It is in “my neck of the woods,” as they say.
There are a great many things that jog my memory, fading as it is. When I saw the movie, Platoon, with my cousin in 1986, I was immediately transported back to the year I was drafted, not just because the movie concerned the Vietnam War, but more precisely because Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings was woven throughout the film from beginning to end. And this had been a favorite piece of music to me the year before I was drafted, when I attended music school at the University of Arizona.
I had not heard the piece for many years at that time. But when I did, I was emotionally transported back in time. It was involuntary. And immediate.
There was no way I could have stopped it. It was, quite literally, a force majeure.
Whether we are talking about music, special places, smells, pictures, phrases, etc., they all have the power to put us in an emotional time machine and carry us back to an event(s) that marked our lives for either good or ill. Instantaneously.
That is why Mrs. P. L. Travers cannot abide pears (in the recent movie, Saving Mr. Banks). It is why her driver, Ralph, prefers sunny days to rainy days. It is why Mr. Disney himself strove to provide a happy, joyful, carefree life for his children. And it is, of course, why you and I function in our own lives as we do.
Our experiences serve as a schema, a framework, a platform, a model from which we evaluate and interpret the rest of the world. They are portals of understanding, almost like a life rubric, an exhaustive category which purports to contain everything we will ever encounter.
Helen Goff (aka Mrs. Travers) enters her adult life laden with a broken model of what life should be, one she is constantly longing to improve upon, even if it requires imagination to create it. And when her broken viewpoints collide with the viewpoints of others, she is forced into an almost impossible dilemma (as are they).
If we could but look into each others’ lives and observe those formative building blocks of life experience. If we could see with another man’s eyes, walk in another man’s moccasins. Our interactions would be so different.
We are, each one of us, the product of countless experiences, various formative influences, multitudes of emotion-charged life events. That, of course, does not give us carte blanche; our notions about life are not right just because they seem natural to us. As I heard someone recently say, your experiences may “explain” you, but they do not “excuse” you.
One of the beauties of an excellent movie like Saving Mr. Banks is that it reminds us that no matter who we are we are products born of life experience, whether the CEO of the largest media and entertainment company in the world, or the man who drives stretch limos for a living. True identification with another person demands that we acknowledge and embrace those life experiences.
When Jean Sibelius wrote Finlandia in 1899 it aroused Finnish patriotism so much that Russian authorities banned its public performance. When terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, our country rallied on the steps of the Capitol, where congressmen gathered and sang Irving Berlin’s God Bless America. Such is the power of music for individuals, and for groups of individuals.
When I hear the two beginning notes of The Beatles’ Hey Jude I am a junior in high school again, in love with Roxanne Price. Danny Boy will immediately remind me of my father, and Clair de Lune, my mother.
If my wife smells newly mown grass she is transported back to Argonne Road in Portsmouth, Ohio, and it is the 1950s once again. The sound of morning doves takes me back to cool mornings in Tucson, Arizona in the 1960s. When I see daisies I am reminded of our wedding day in 1976.
Each of us carries with us at all times the dormant seeds of our past. And no matter the medium, whether sound or sight or feeling or smell, those seeds can spring into full bloom instantly. All they need is a prompt.
A nudge. A touch.
When I hear the songs of Mary Poppins from 1964 I am an eleven year old boy again, having recently moved across the country, from a moist lush green environment to a dry and thorny desert surrounded by four mountain ranges. If you are a baby boomer you, no doubt, engage in your own time travel when you hear Julie Andrews’ voice.
As Walt Disney humbly sits in Mrs. Travers’ sitting room with a cup of tea in his hand, and makes one final appeal for the rights to her story, he does so by rehearsing for her one of the most formative and influential events of his life, made by one of the most influential persons in his life. That is because he knew (as we all do, I think) that when a person shares his or her story with another person an intimate communion is made possible.
And that communion, more often than not, is irresistible.
We are made for community, aren’t we? Ready-made from the Creator’s hands.
So, whether you (like Mrs. Travers) are prone to building pretend homes out of weeds and flowers whenever you sit in the grass; or (like me) you sketch a cabin with smoke coming out of a chimney whenever your grandson asks you to “draw” with him – you are going to continue to reconstruct the dreams of your childhood (involuntarily) your whole life.
Formula: talking about your story = the way to pull a human being’s heartstrings.
And where our stories touch one another . . . where they intersect through shared life experiences . . . where they merge into one seemingly unified channel, whether positive or negative – there . . . in that sacred spot . . . our minds and hearts are at full attention.
The movie is excellent, by the way; I highly recommend it. But it is the story of your life and mine that is truly enrapturing and exhilarating.
Tell . . . your story.
And listen . . . with your heart.