As the day winds down, I turn the TV on and sit transfixed. Mesmerized by the colors and the beauty of the latest Pixar movie – Soul. What can I say. This is another masterpiece from the geniuses at Pixar. This film has so many levels that I think it will take dozens of viewings before I even begin to digest the messages that the movie has to say. The most important thing that it brings to my mind, however, is that we as people waste so much time thinking that things can be so much better that we forget how to live life. It isn’t the glories, the heights of fame and success that defines a person. It’s how we live with our family, how we live in our community. How we touch the ones we love and the people around us. We live a life and we forget that every moment is special. I needed this reminder today. I need to remember this message every day. We obsess and work hard to get somewhere and then when we get there, it often feels like a disappointment. There is an emptiness, a feeling that we must have missed something. What we miss is the part of life that makes it worth living. Being alive means looking around, taking a breath, and watching the world around us. Whether it is in the company of others or in our quiet corner of the house, life is around us. In the warmth of the early morning sun. In the cold stare of Orion as he marches in the winter sky. Life is everywhere. Each step forward, backward, sideways takes us somewhere new. Each step is an opportunity to give meaning to the lives of others. And in so doing, give meaning to our own lives.
In the wee hours of the morning, after another restless and near sleepless evening, I started listening to music. The notes played on and then I suddenly realized that at that moment, I wasn’t really in the room. My mind had wandered back in time, remembering a time when family members who are but a memory were still breathing the same air that I breathed. And in that moment, I found myself wondering. What is really important in my life? And in nearly the same instant, I thought about the people who are forever part of me. I didn’t remember the clothes they wore. Or the places we have been. I thought about how much I was loved. And how this feeling that never goes away always brings balance back into my life.
I was taught so many things by a great many people. The most important lessons were not imparted with words, but through actions, through example. Kindness is not optional, even when it is difficult to give. Respect other people, even when you don’t agree with them. Be generous to others, for what you have, even if earned, is a gift given to you, not to be hoarded, but to be shared. Speak the truth always, but never harshly.
And then the present, or the near present, came back to me. Sometimes, just seeing and being with someone is enough. Your heart always finds a way to tell you what it feels. And in the music, joyful and hopeful as the dawning of a new day, I remembered the thing that gives life to a life. Love. A gift, a treasure. A memory? Sometimes. Transient? Not when it is true.
My favorite episode of Star Trek is “The Inner Light.” Star Trek has always been a show about what it means to be human. Yes, it has a lot of flashing lights, special effects, green aliens, esoteric worlds, starship battles and journeys to countless planets and stars. And yet for all the glitter, the show, at its best, is a grand exposition of the human condition, the human experience. In “The Inner Light”, Captain Picard is thrust upon a life totally different from his own. Instead of commanding a starship, he was a man with a wife he didn’t know, on a planet slowly dying. He didn’t want to be there, but there was this woman he didn’t know who nevertheless tended to him, nurtured him, loved him. Slowly, the fantasy became a reality and in a scant twenty minutes, Picard experiences a life he had never known. A love he had never known. A wife who adored him, children who loved him, needed him and in the end, taught him that being a parent elicits emotions ranging from worry, consternation, disappointment, pride. All the by product of the most basic human emotion of all. The ability to feel and to give love.
It is a masterful story and when I need to find meaning in my own life, I watch this show again and remember that all that glitters is not gold. Kamin was not rich by any means. His family was but one of many families in a village being ravaged by drought. Yet the life he was living seemed so much more complete, so much more fulfilled than the life he lived as the dashing captain of a Federation flagship. And when the illusion ended, when he realized that what he had thought was his life was actually a mental recreation, he did something extraordinary. He took a flute, sat by a window, gazed at the stars, and he began to play.
We can go through life and be dazzled by the success that we are taught to go after. We can go through life looking for the next star, hardly stopping to even look at the world that we are in. We can go through life and experience ecstasy, the heights of fame, the allure of power, the spoils of wealth and yet feel empty, broken. When we look outside ourselves for validation, we allow others to judge us from their point of view; to tell us that in order to be happy or successful, we must follow someone else’s dream, live the life that someone else envisions. Is it such a surprise that a life that always looks outward misses the simple joys that life can bring. A fluttering butterfly. A cool breeze on a warm day. A sprinkle of rain blurring one’s view of the world, for an instant. So many small moments that can bring meaning to a life. Do we spend the time looking at the world in its own terms, feeling the infinitely small breezes of fluttering wings, feeling the hair on our forehead dance, just a little. Do we look inward and in our heart find that inner light, the one true beacon that can bring meaning to one’s existence?
It is like the nondescript houseplant pictured above. Green leaves on a pot. These leaves have a secret. They are the leaves that will bring sustenance to this plant, that will eventually provide the nourishment for flowers to bloom. These are the leaves of a sampaguita plant. Jasmine. Beautiful and sweet. A flower, that to many, symbolizes purity and humility. It is, in many ways, ethereal.
So as the year ends, I think of this special Star Trek episode. And of a beautiful flower. And look inward and see the beauty that the inner light reveals. It is within all of us. And when you find it, share it. Be kind. Be gentle. Be generous. In the grace that the beatitudes bring, we experience the greatness of all creation.