I have been thinking about things today. Deep things. I feel a little blue, so forgive me for the shadow this might cast on this essay. But permit me to say that I sometimes feel caught up in extenuating circumstances, over which I have no control, and these self-same circumstances can sometimes be enough to debilitate me, getting my eyes off the prize: JOY.
I wrote about Plan B last night, and when I woke up this morning, Plan B swung full swing into action. My daughter was throwing up, I could not find a substitute for my class, my son had an early dentist appointment which was now up in the air and I had commitments to two committee meetings for which I would now be a no-show. It was looking like Plan B was not all I had it cracked up to be.
So much for that pep talk to my alter ego.
As the day progressed, I started to critically analyze myself as I relate to my friends, my colleagues and my children. Then, I began to widen that comparison to include my place in the world and the stamp I might leave as a legacy. Heavy stuff for a mom charged with staying home for the day with her sick kid.
So, tonight, I am processing these thoughts, and this is where I am in the thought process. Right at this moment.
I’ll start with a story.
We watched the movie Warhorse the other evening, and as disturbing as some of the images were, the one that stands out for me is that one in which Joey the thoroughbred, protagonist at the center of this great film, gets caught in barbed wire during the Battle of the Somme. Joey bolts when his German caregiver frees him of his hold, pending imminent attacks by the British, and it is the sound of a British tank on his heels that makes Joey run. He runs for his life, until he is caught in No Man’s land in between German and British trenches, an area fraught with barbed wire and dangerous gullies. Eventually, Joey becomes disoriented, and he stumbles on barbed wire. He becomes entrapped in more of the potentially fatal wire as he twists to free himself. Eventually he collapses, done in by the struggle. As the scene fades, we are left to believe that Joey will die there in that tangled web of wiring.
There is a little of Joey inside of all of us. We get caught up in life events we don’t see coming. Things were not suppose to unravel in this manner, we think. Where did everything fall apart? As a mother, wife, teacher and friend, I can understand this on a very personal level. Funny how a movie about war horse can make me think about my life as a woman. How it ironically can reveal deep things about my soul.
I see that barbed wire as expectations we have of our lives. We are running, sometimes towards, and at other times away. We don’t always know where we are going, we are just running. We run the rat race, we run the “comparison marathon”, the “work-a-holic’s triathalon”. Insert your own label where needed. Whether we admit it or not, we are all running. Some of us slowly jog in such a way that we can smell the roses en route, but others of us are blazing past all landmarks in our tear to go forward, move on, get ahead. And when we trip up, as is bound to happen, we often do not see it coming. In fact, we are so unprepared for those obstacles in our path that they completely sideswipe us, knocking us off our feet in the process. By the time we are ensnared in the trap, it is too late. We are caught in a tangle of broken dreams and commitments, unresolved communicational breakdowns and webs of deceit. We can do little else but lie down and let the pain wash over us as we prepare to give up and let go.
In the movie, Joey is rescued. Real life is trickier. We are not always rescued. We often look for someone or something to come to our aid, but we forget that taking initiative and reaching out is where it is at. Joey cannot do this, he is a fictional character, and an animal nonetheless. We humans are hardwired with the ability to reach out and make connections. Whether we do so or not is our choice to make. It can make or break us in the end.
We all need people in our lives, and if we are so blessed as Joey to have a hero rescue us, then what a story we can tell. But if not, we can still persevere. We do not all need a mortal hero in our story. We can find it within ourselves, with God’s grace and enablement, to rally and find hope for the next move. Dependence is a lovely thing, but when it removes our ability to help ourselves, it is a hindrance.
I love the end of the movie where the boy and Joey reunite, but I was left to think this thought: these two spent the entirety of the movie apart, and only came together after great struggle and loss. What if Joey had waited for the boy or vice versa? Where would either have been if they had not found it within themselves to move forward and find the strength needed to carry on?
We’d all love to have a hero step in and save the day, but the reality of life is this: we do not live in a fairy tale and there are not happily ever after endings most of the time. We do well to see that our role in this life is this: to soldier on in the battle, and when a hero steps in to save the day, we take it as a gift, not a given. Whether life works out as planned, or not, we can still find joy. We can still carry on. Regardless of the Plan.
We are not owed in this life a “happy ever after, the end.” Joy rises above happiness, and it is the better way. It trumps happiness every time. What more can we ask for than this?