Creating a Blockbuster Life

As November approaches and the political rhetoric and social media frenzy amps up, are you feeling as weary as I am? I think of myself as a pretty positive person, yet I am having a tough time remaining that way surrounded by the many prophets of doom and gloom.

So this Sunday morning, in the lazy lavender hours of dawn, as I snuggled with my youngest grandchild (who had spent the night), I pondered life’s many blessings, and decided to share a few snippets of those morning musings and hopefully raise your mood.

I am old enough to remember pre-digital movie theaters wherein noisy machines up in a elevated booth would clickety-clack and pass perforated film in front of a bright bulb so that images could be projected onto the screen at the front of the theater. Sometimes the images were clear, other times the scene was blurred and the projecting lens would need to be adjusted. Occasionally, the sprockets would fail and the bright light would burn right through the fragile celluloid. Sadly, this malfunction would cause vociferous protests in the audience.

Those memories lead me to analogies between that process and how our brains function. Some ideas we project to others are crystal clear, others are blurry because of some difficulty with our lenses and call for adjustments on our part. When we are not functioning at peak performance, some ideas get stuck, we can’t move forward and the jam can cause irreparable damage.

In a similar vein, our lives are much like a long movie that has been produced throughout our length of days. Sometimes the script we have been given has some challenges. As the directors, we end up shooting some scenes over and over again, as we endeavor to achieve a certain emotional outcome. On occasion the others we work with are contrary and even opposed to our artistic vision. We often let our own pride get in the way of asking help of more experienced people. Some events “end up on the cutting room floor,” and are forgotten, because we deem them superfluous or in conflict with the story we are weaving. Ultimately, the “movie” we release is based upon the screenplay we’ve been given, our perseverance, our willingness to seek out the help of other talented people, and our ability to let go of unnecessary scenes.

What does this have to do with the current political climate and the divisions we are experiencing in the United States? I think some of us approach life and endeavor to tell our story like Wes Anderson, others like Kathryn Bigelow, still others like Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, or Penny Marshall. Our childhood, teen and adult experiences, our education, socio-economic strata and religious upbringing, form the physical, emotional, and psychological foundations for the content (or screenplay) we have been given. If we are fortunate, diligent, and have people who believe in us, we are more likely to project a positive influential message to others. While hereditary deficits, brutality, misfortune, and abandonment may spur some to greatness, these “production hurdles,” more often, create a cycle of hopelessness and self-centeredness that enrich no one.

We need to keep in mind that some of us are good at producing “summer block busters,” some excel at romantic-comedies, others show skills with docudramas, animated classics, epic histories, or independent films. Each director’s deepest desire is to somehow impact society by influencing the thoughts and actions of others. The best movies are those that uplift the audience and inspire greater happiness, energy, compassion, or social responsibility.

Have you ever noticed how good directors compliment the works of their colleagues? Likewise, I feel our world is a richer place when we focus on the good in each person and refuse to elevate ourselves at others’ expense. Difficulties develop when inflated egos interfere, when one no longer empathizes with or appreciates the complexity of each person’s endeavors and becomes convinced that his/her own “movie” is the only one that deserves public attention.

My promise to myself, and to each of you, is that I will always strive to produce and project a message that promotes confidence, hope, compassion, understanding, and love. I pray it may brighten your day, encourage your own endeavors and help you to make your own movie Oscar-worthy!

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Life Goes On

My sincerest apology to my readers. I have not posted here for most of the summer. As many of you may know, I have experienced three significant losses that are impacting my life in ways I could never imagine. The deaths of my brother-in-law, my favored pet, and the 43-year-old son of long-time friends, have broken my heart open in entirely unexpected ways. The pain of those losses had, for this intervening time, stifled my desire to write. However, life has called me forward and this morning I feel the need to share some observations with you.

I recently celebrated our youngest grandson’s seventh birthday. I gathered with friends and family and, as is the norm at our family gatherings, several conversations took place simultaneously. During one of those merry-go-round conversations, a family member said, “Life does go on!” They were words that I have heard hundreds of times, but in this instance they lit the bulb of deep inner revelation. In that instant, a wide variety of life experiences coalesced in an aha moment. Suddenly, I had a better understanding of purpose here on earth.

Humankind moves forward with a very linear sense of time. We think in terms of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. When someone we love dies (including animals we have loved as pets), in one sense, time seems to stop. The linear sense of time becomes temporarily truncated. Our minds get caught in a whirlwind. We roll the moment of loss around and around in our heads. Sleep patterns are disturbed. Yesterday’s joys and sorrows play out like mental movies. We become preoccupied with “what-ifs” and “should haves.” It becomes a real challenge to focus on the present moment because the pain seems unbearable and we can not imagine a future without the object of our love and affection.

Significant losses induce a psychological, intellectual, and emotional paralysis. It becomes difficult to make decisions. Normal intellectual function gets short-circuited. Internal questions about faith, hope, and life after death are brought to the forefront. Simple tasks become complex. Emotions are extremely fragile and can send us through stomach-wrenching barrel rolls of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance over several months (years) and almost on a daily basis. It can be the emotional equivalent of walking onto quicksand. If you struggle and fight the experience, it can suck you deeper and deeper. As with quicksand, the best action is to remain calm, breathe deeply, relax as much as possible, attend to immediate physical needs, and accept any help that is offered. One article on escaping quicksand advises to think in terms of “floating” rather than power swimming.

If we are patient with ourselves and others, our internal clock eventually resets itself and a sense of “future” reappears. Somehow we realize that we are being called to rebirth and, though life will never be the same as before the loss, we are simultaneously becoming a new person in a world without the physical presence of the loved one. We become aware of how we have internalized the very spirit of the beloved and they are present in each moment at a much more intimate level. Their existence has helped to mold us into the person we are and their memory continues to influence our thoughts and actions, until the day we too leave this physical plane behind.

Over time the journey through grief brings new wisdom and compassion. We become more empathetic to those who have lost someone. We develop a greater appreciation for all loved ones who are still here. We learn that each moment of life is a precious gift and not to be squandered. As my friend grieving the loss of her son said to me, “Hug your loved ones while you can, because it can all change in a single heartbeat!

Days may go by when you feel as if the light is returning and you glimpse a new “normal.” Then suddenly that vision disappears and you get plunged back into the internal chaos of loss. Still, each time the light reappears, the sensation lasts just a bit longer. If you remain patient and open, and if you are honest about your emotions, eventually you too will be able to say with confidence, “Life does go on!”

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