MAKING PEACE WITH RELEVANCE (OR LACK THEREOF)

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Lost Stars – Adam Levine

What happens when a gritty coach, a frustrated actor, and a revolutionary doctor collide? There’s a feisty brouhaha – that’s what. Coach Todd French, Michael Keaton’s Birdman, and Atul Gawande have been skirmishing in my brain these days, raising the unsettling specter of Life’s Meaning.

Todd French was a coach who helped bring lacrosse to the West Coast and became a legend in the Bay Area. He was recently memorialized in front of a packed stadium at the local high school after his valiant four-year battle with lung cancer. The clusters of shiny-eyed athletes dressed in navy blazers and the stirring tributes to this reluctant hero made me want to rush from the locker room and play the game of life all out just like Todd did. He was a tough competitive spirit who directly inspired hundreds of young athletes and indirectly touched thousands of people of all ages. His wife and two sons endured the anguish of watching this robust man’s physical decline, but they must certainly be uplifted by the outpouring of community support, the genuine admiration on display, and the immortalizing of his legacy: Team French Forever. We should all be so fortunate to have that kind of an impact on this earthly life. I hope that Todd’s family can rest in the peace that Frenchie was visibly relevant and inspiring in a world filled with pain, tyranny and hopelessness. Coach French had found the meaning of his life.

Alas, Michael Keaton’s character as the aging superhero Birdman battled disastrously to find his life’s meaning, despite great fame and Hollywood success. Tony and I watched this movie one quiet evening and sort of shrugged our shoulders about it. But it’s the kind of movie that stays with you, and we tossed and turned on it all night. We took one look at each other the next morning and just had to watch it again right then and there, so compelling it was. Birdman powerfully portrays the demonic feelings of inadequacy and disillusionment that haunt us all. Many a personal crisis – especially the midlife variety – are sprung from the fear of irrelevance. Even the truly great ones blessed with talents and passion – a la Robin Williams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman – struggle mightily to find peace in what appears to the public as sensational importance. Not many of us have the gifts or the wherewithal to have a true impact on the world in a big superstar way, even the superstars themselves.

My book club is reading a book this month about living and dying with intention. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande takes a look at aging with dignity, wrangling with terminal illness, dying on our terms, and balancing the fight for life with the grace of letting go. My takeaway on all of his insights and the meaningful studies in his book is that we humans have a profound need to find reasons to live beyond ourselves that make living feel worthwhile. And perhaps, the more fulfillment we find in simply being, the less worried we are about achieving and accumulating and self-important pursuits.

As the wise Dr. Gawande says, “In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all its moments – which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. A seemingly happy life may be empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves. Unlike your experiencing self – which is absorbed in the moment – your remembering self is attempting to recognize not only the peaks of joy and valleys of misery but also how the story works out as a whole. Why would a football fan let a few flubbed minutes at the end of the game ruin three hours of bliss? Because a football game is a story. And in stories, endings matter.” In closing his Being Mortal documentary Atul says, “How is dying ever at all acceptable? How is it ever anything except this awful terrible thing? And the only way it is is because we live for something bigger than ourselves.”

We tell our children, “Follow your passion!” But there is something demoralizing about the following your passion myth. Most people never even FIND this elusive passion let alone have the opportunity to chase it down. The trick is to simply follow our interests, allow ourselves to dream, and hope to find some sense of fulfillment in the process.

We bumble and bluster our way through our idealistic teens & twenties, power and hustle through our industrious thirties & forties… and hit our fifties & sixties disillusioned and disenchanted, feeling irrelevant, wanting to leave a mark somehow, realizing that this really IS all there is. We just need to learn to be happy with our little mark – pinprick in actuality – whether it’s nurturing family, doing small good deeds, or supporting a cause that holds a place in our hearts. We are all irrelevant in the scheme of the universe, but as long as we haven’t committed some heinous crime or crawled under a boulder, we are all relevant. My wise Russian friend once told me, “You’ve raised three children, you’ve done your job. You’re relevant.” It’s kind of like “What’s enough?” Not many of us are going to make a big splash in this world and leave a huge legacy behind, so it’s all about finding contentment in whatever little bit we can do. We are as wondrously relevant and humbly irrelevant as every other pinpricking soul in the Big Out There.

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“You are not IN the universe, you ARE the universe, an intrinsic part of it. Ultimately you are not a person, but a focal point where the universe is becoming conscious of itself. What an amazing miracle.”

-Eckhart Tolle

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. brendadit
    Mar 10, 2015 @ 16:04:59

    LOVE LOVE LOVE- you nailed it once again Miss Jana. Loved starting my day with this and will read it over and over again. Perfect!

    Reply

  2. Alyson Cole Colton
    Mar 10, 2015 @ 16:06:30

    Oh Jana …. beautifully written. Thank you. This one will stay with me for a very long time.

    Reply

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