Now Showing: Life

“Your life will be a great and continuous unfolding…You will come to know things that can only be known with the wisdom of age and the grace of years.” — Cheryl Strayed

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You know what I think the most beautiful thing in life is?

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It’s getting back up after falling down. It’s starting over afresh. After grappling with all the thorns and thistles, it’s stepping out onto the clearing ahead. It is, after hitting rock bottom, knowing that there’s nowhere else to go but up.

We’re all familiar with that part in great stories and movies when everything goes wrong—the protagonist loses everything, the sad music starts playing in the background, the hero is slumped somewhere murky, the tears flow, and there seems to be no way things are ever gonna go right again.

But we all know it’s not the end of the story yet; we’re just halfway through the book, or it’s far too early for the movie to roll the credits already. And we know—without a hint of a doubt—we know that it is exactly after the lowest point of the story that the plot is going to turn in favor of the hero. Through pure luck, sheer willpower, a favorable coincidence, the payback of good karma, or some other magnificent twist—the hero somehow finds a way to push past the adversity, rise above his personal struggles, defeat evil, accomplish the impossible, claim what is rightfully his, and finally, finally get to live his happy-ever-after.

This thought draws me to the remarkable lines Sam said to Frodo in LOTR1:

“It’s like in the great stories…when there is only darkness and evil, no hope to survive…There were lots of chances to turn back, only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something…That there is good in this world, and that good is worth fighting for…”

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I realize that it is a beautiful perspective in life, the perspective that life mirrors one good story, one great film. Life does offer a series of experiences similar to that which we go through as we flip the pages of an interesting novel, or sit back to watch a good movie—the introduction of characters, the laying of the plot, the spark of conflict, the explosion of the everything-goes-haywire part, the downfall of the hero, the darkness and the hopelessness.

But no matter how dark it gets or how irredeemable the hero’s mistakes seem to be, the fact is that the story simply doesn’t end there. There always comes the eventual piecing together of the puzzle pieces, the revelation of a solution, the recovery and redemption, the repentance and forgiveness, the patching up of what was broken, the wedding, the million-dollar-prize or whatever-else-you-might-want-at-the-ending, the happy ever after.

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“It’s going to be okay in the end.

If it’s not, it’s not the end.”

 

Now, it’s also true that it can be exceptionally hard to keep up this sort of optimism and perspective in the face of everyday realities—try being trapped in one heck of a traffic jam when you’re running late for a do-or-die job interview and you’ll know what I mean. Even life’s littlest nuisances often get the best of us. When tested, we find it easier to lose sight of this bigger-picture perspective and scream DAMNDAMNDAMN, MYLIFEISAMESS, MYLIFEISAMESS, MYLIFEISAMESS, IWANTTODIERIGHTNOW, RIGHTNOW, RIGHTFREAKINNOW. And in real life, there’s no guarantee that the plot will work out alright or that we’ll all get our happy-ever-afters. Must these realities, then, take away from our chances of spending a happy and hopeful time on this earth, and of finding life worth living?

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They might, but they don’t have to. If we really think about it, what makes the great stories and movies great is not the guarantee of happy endings, but the wonderful way the protagonist has demonstrated courage and cunning even in the most daunting of circumstances. It is the way the hero kept hope alive even amidst the most hopeless of moments. It is how the characters held on to each other, stayed loyal to their friendships and bonds, and lifted each other up even when all the world around them is falling apart.

The true message of the great stories and movies that inspire us is that courage pays off, grit is essential, friendship matters, love is worth it, and even setbacks can be blessings in disguise. What we thought only served to ruin us, sometimes turn out to be the things that truly built us up. If we can somehow weather through those setbacks, that trying time, that major obstacle, we pave the way towards better times, and create for ourselves the possibility of that happy ending. Ultimately, it’s about having faith in a Grander Plan that works in our best interests, carried out through a Master Plot that will eventually “connect the dots” to unfold the unique story we each tell through the way we live our lives.

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“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” ― Orson Welles

They say that at the end of your days, just before you take your last breath, the scenes of your life will flash before your eyes, much like a movie summarizing your time here on Earth. I think this best illustrates how each life is indeed one great movie, the plot of which you will fully understand only after everything’s been said and done. If this is so, then while we’re living I think we must all keep in mind this wise counsel on that final movie each of us is bound to see:

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“Make sure it’s worth watching.”

Image courtesy of Roey Ahram via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image courtesy of Roey Ahram via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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