This month, my husband Tim is trying to support me in my endeavor to be more still, more present, more aware and more in love.
To that end, he offered to write a blog post for me. He’s offered in the past, in a half-joking way, but this time I actually took him up on it, much to his surprise and immediate consternation. However, he did it and I think he did it pretty darn well. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to the musing of my better half.
First Time/ This Time
I am not a very cultured person. I spend far too much time watching sports and Seinfeld re-runs, and far too little time reading good books or poetry. There is not a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from NBA games or from Jerry, George, Elaine, & Kramer. So I’ll take it where I can get it, and I seem to get most of it from song lyrics and movies.
Which brings me to U2. Bono’s song lyrics are about as close as I get to reading poetry. I’m not sure where he’d rank amongst the all-time greats, like Robert Frost or E.E. Cummings , or any of the other famous poets that I’ve heard of but have never read, but it seems to me like he’s knows what he’s doing.
One of my favorite lines is from a song called “Vertigo.”
a feeling so much
stronger than a thought
Often, Bono’s words have a way of pulling me out of myself and opening me up, allowing something to sneak in through the side door and change my perspective.
Recently I was feeling like I was in a bit of a funk. I have been in one of those “glass half empty” modes for the past couple weeks, months, years, decades (who are we kidding?). I have recently come to accept that, unfortunately, this is my default setting. And although I am aware of my blessings (my wife, my kids, my health, my friends & extended family, my business… the list could go on & on) I spend much more time and energy focused on the things that aren’t quite “right” (the recession, finances, my kid’s behavior, my favorite team’s ineptitude, Homeland Season 3…). The list could go on & on.
I know I am blessed, but I don’t really feel it. And as Bono reminds me, a feeling is stronger than a thought.
This is my ongoing struggle: feeling what I know to be true. Because when I feel it, everything changes. Everything is… better.
“Vertigo’s” lyrics were ricocheting around inside my head when I was trying to find something to watch on TV the other night. As chance would have it (or maybe it’s a combination of divine intervention + the rapidly approaching holiday season), an oldie but a goodie was just starting: Love, Actually (a semi-cheesy, romantic comedy from the 90’s starring Hugh Grant and a bunch of other English people). I’d seen this movie when it came out, and a couple of times since, and always thought it was pretty decent: funny, clever, and sweet, with good looking actors and witty writing. What’s not to like?
The movie opens with montage of reunion scenes at Heathrow Airport, with a voice-over from Hugh Grant, one of the main characters:
“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love, actually, is all around.”
Now I don’t want to mix metaphors here (or whatever you call it when you reference a different movie in the middle of your story which happens to be about another movie. Cue final scene of Jerry McGuire) but Hugh Grant had me at: “love, actually, is all around.”
With his opening line, he had me. “Love is all around,” I thought. “It’s everywhere.”
For the next couple hours, I re-watched this movie and found myself in tears for most of it. I’m not exactly sure why, as the movie isn’t particularly sad. I think it’s because I was opened up and I was seeing it from a different vantage point.
Sometimes, I think, the major themes in stories elude me the first time through, probably because I am too wrapped up in the plot and how things are resolved. But this time through, I think I finally picked up what the filmmakers were laying down. This time through, I noticed things I had never noticed before.
The first time I saw this movie, I noticed all of the “typical” love stories that were about romantic love. This time, I noticed all of the other kinds of love that were happening between all sorts of different humans.
There is love between siblings: Sarah, played by Laura Linney, chooses to love her brother, who lives in a mental institution, even though it costs her opportunities to pair up with the good looking dude from her office, and will undoubtedly cost her similar opportunities down the road. But she is committed to him and she prioritizes her decision to love him over her own desires. Ali and I often tell our kids there’s difference between love, the verb, and love, the emotion. The emotion fades in and out, and sometimes love is hard. And in those times when it’s hard, you have to choose it. Sarah chooses it, again and again and again.
- The first time through, I noticed Sarah’s love for the hot dude from her office. This time through, I noticed her love for her brother.
There is love between a father and his step son: the father (Liam Neeson), whose wife has recently died, notices that his step son is acting strange, so he pulls himself out of his own sadness to try to help the boy. When it turns out that the boy claims to be in love with a girl at school, rather than laughing it off or telling the boy that love will only leave you heartbroken, he decides to help him get the girl. He participates in the love story of the boy, and won’t let him give up.
Near the end of the movie, when the girl is about to get on a plane back to America, he gives him one last push:
“Sam, you’ve got nothin’ to lose, and you’ll always regret it if you don’t! I never told your mom enough. I should have told her every day because she was perfect every day. You’ve seen the films, kiddo. It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
The boy replies, with the most flawless line in the entire movie:
“Okay, Dad. Let’s do it. Let’s go get the shit kicked out of us by love.”
- The first time through, I noticed the cute story about the boy’s puppy love. This time through, I noticed the father’s love.
There is love between friends: the creepy old singer realizes at the end of the movie that “the love of his life” turns out to be his chubby manager.
“And I realized that, as dire chance and… and… and fateful cockup would have it, here I am, mid-50s, and without knowing it I’ve gone and spent most of my adult life with a… with a chubby employee. And… and much as it grieves me to say it, it… it might be that the people I love is, in fact… you.”
He wasn’t coming out of the closet, he simply realized that it was Christmas, and it occurred to him that you are supposed to be with the people you love on Christmas, and the person he loved most in the world was his manager.
- The first time through, I noticed the creepy old dude’s love for himself and his career comeback attempt. This time through, I noticed a sweet, older person having a life-altering epiphany.
Of course, there is also romantic love. Between the prime minister and his secretary. Between the sweet young couple that works on the adult movie set. Between the young, single English dude and the Midwestern American girls he meets on vacation. But my favorite love story in the movie is between the writer and the housekeeper.
The writer, played by Colin Firth, is English. When he goes to France to work on his book, he meets a Portuguese housekeeper who comes to clean his cottage every day. They do not speak the same language, and have a tough time communicating. But they slowly begin to fall in love.
It’s easy to see the story on the surface and jump to logical conclusions: boy meets her, girl is young & beautiful, girl is in maid’s costume, girl can’t nag boy because she doesn’t speak English… therefore boy falls in love with girl.
On the flipside: girl meets boy, girl makes minimum wage as a housekeeper and comes from low-income background, boy is an awkward, lanky nerd, but is also very rich and seems like a nice guy… therefore girl falls in love with boy.
But underneath the surface, I saw two people who couldn’t rely on words to communicate, so they had to find different ways. So they communicated with eye contact, and with gestures, and with kindnesses, and with their reactions to things that happened (like when the wind blows his entire manuscript into the lake and she jumps in to try to gather up all of the wet, ruined pages).
It occurred to me that their true selves were falling in love with each other, and that if they had been able to speak, the words would have only gotten in the way. Words have a tendency to do that sometimes.
- The first time through, I noticed a typical “falling-in-love story,” the most typical of them all, where physical attraction kicks in and people are powerless to stop it. This time through, I noticed a pure love story, where two people’s souls were able to fall in love because words weren’t available to screw it up.
By the time the credits started to roll at the end of the movie, I felt different. I was in love. In love with my wife. In love with my kids. In love with my friends, and my family, I was in love with pretty much everybody. And I was feeling it, not just thinking it. And I think I remember hearing somewhere that feelings are stronger than thoughts.
How long will this feeling last? I don’t know, but I assume it will fade, and my default setting will be restored. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy this feeling, enjoy that my glass is, not only half full, but overflowing.
Like I said at the beginning, I’m not very cultured. My life lessons are delivered via pop music and cheesy rom-coms. I should have also mentioned that I’m not very smart. I had to see this movie four or five times before the light bulb went on. But at least it finally went on. Love is, actually, all around us. All we have to do is notice it, choose it, participate in it, and be changed by it.
Thank you, Bono. I love you, man!