Have you seen the movie “500 Days of Summer”? If you haven’t, I wouldn’t recommend it. I’ll spare you the 2 hour movie and sum up the important parts. Its about this guy who is trying to understand why he and his ex-girlfriend, Summer, broke up. The typical plot line. The one redeeming quality of the movie is a scene where the main character gets an invitation to attend his then ex-girlfriend’s party. He isn’t sure if this is her attempt to reignite the flame or a pity “See, we can still be friends” invitation.
The important part is what happens next. The screen shows the main character walking to the door with a box of chocolates. The moment he knocks on the door the screen splits in half to show the “reality” version of events and the “expectations” version of events. You can watch how this scene plays out here.
Isn’t this life? In our heads, we have expectations and ideas of who we think we should be and how we think life should play out.
Then there is the other side- the “reality”. Where you are keenly aware of the limitations of you relationships, restrictions, and routines. (*Shameless plug for my earlier letter.)
We are faced with opportunities that challenge us to see if our expectation of who we think we are matches our behaviors. I like to believe that I am a warm and receptive person. I recognize that sometimes I simply don’t want to engage in sharing feelings or meeting the person’s emotional needs because I simply don’t want to. The scary part is that it happens more often with people that are close to me rather than the random strangers that I encounter. Sometimes I grapple with missed opportunities of being a nice person when there is no external reward. The other day a man in a wheelchair, who clearly had mental health issues, was just posted in the street. I could have waited for a safe moment to ask if he would have liked to be pushed to safety… and then took my chances. But I kept walking, and watching as cars nearly hit him. And then someone else pulled over and wheeled the man to safety. Clearly I was not the good Samaritan I usually imagine that I would have been in that scenario. Lastly, there is the looming thought that I should have hit more life milestones by now. Its the plexus of who I think I am, how I think life should be, and everything in between.
The beautiful thing about being a multi-faceted human is that there is more to life than the “expectation” of events and the “reality” of events. I would also add the “meaning” of events and the “impact” of events.
Let me put this in a scenario. The context of this story is me sitting in heavy traffic on the 5 freeway on Bolt Bus going home for the Christmas break. At this very moment, as I am writing this, the bus is completely stopped. We are going 0 mph. We are stopped. Not moving. Just sitting here. Hence the reason I’m writing this now.
- Expectations: Life would be better if I could have door (in San Francisco) to door (in southern California) car service with a flight (instead of a bus) in between.
- Reality: Neither alarm I set for 6:30am went off this morning. Had to take Uber Pool which made 3 stops before barely reaching my destination in time. Getting on the bus (with a couple minutes to spare) and somehow getting seated next to a 4 year old. And, no, this kid was not traveling with me. And I was still stuck in traffic.
- Meaning: I could have been matched with 6 other possible Uber drivers, but I ended up with one that felt very comfortable processing the meaning of fatherhood and being a man during a 33 minute ride. He expressed the many ways in which he perceives his father as being a horrible person, his understanding of why he has a strained relationship with his own son, and how he is trying to do his best for his 11 year old daughter. On the bus, I ended up letting this 4 year old sit next to me because he was so well behaved and interesting to entertain. In hindsight, it made sitting in traffic much better. I then had an interesting conversation with his dad about health and meditation. Bonus: they shared the best grapefruit that I ever had. Lastly, of course the delay was due to an accident that occurred nearly 8 hours ago. You may wonder how I knew that. The bus driver announced at the beginning of the trip that there had been a big accident and that we may have to take a 2 hour detour that would be determined once we reached the half-way point of our destination.
- Bonus meaning: I might not always be the good Samaritan in all situations, but at least I’m not a self-absorbed jerk that doesn’t have compassion for humanity. Some girl on the bus made the comment, “It better be a 10 car pile up causing all of this traffic”. When we passed the scene that had been mostly cleaned up (which they had been working on since 9am), she said, “Really? That’s it”. Sorry there wasn’t enough blood and carnage for your viewing pleasure to justify your 2 hour delay. We all made it to our destinations safely, but we will never know if the people involved in the accident did.
- Impact: I would use my cinematography magic to leave this quarter of the screen blank. The true impact of any event is only understood hindsight, if ever understood at all. And I’m o.k. without knowing. Every so often you feel the impact, or it lingers on for longer than you expect. Sometimes, you later realize that something that felt so insignificant in the moment would play a part in another moment. The impact of what you do may have more impact on other people who are watching you. There is a very good chance that you are an amazing person that has positively impacted my life. I just don’t send these emails to just anyone. Despite the day-to-day drudgery of getting through Monday to Friday, there is a very good chance that someone thinks that you are awesome, and admirable, and that you have your life together. Take a moment and give yourself a pat on the back for doing you as best as you can!
I challenged myself this year to take a moment once a month to reflect on the good ol’ days in real time. I’m not sure if it helped or not, but maybe there will be more significance in these long ramblings this time next year.
This letter is getting really long, so I’m going to abruptly end it here.
Except, I really wanted to share this story that didn’t fit any where else: I heard this beautiful story on This American Life about time travel. One women said she would go back to the day that her husband unexpectedly died. She wouldn’t change anything. She would just enjoy her last moments with him more.
Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Happy Kwanza. Happy New Year. Happy Holy Days.