Carpe diem! Can You Do It? Can I?
I recently re-watched my favorite Robin Williams movie, Dead Poet Society. Many profound messages dwell in this movie…or maybe several aspects of the same profound message.
Do not let your life slip away unlived.
Astonishing that we need reminding (frequently) about not letting our lives slip away, but apparently we do. I do.
Getting caught up in the day-to-day, driven by our task lists is a reality that must be fought against like an enemy. Grabbing minutes of the day back for different pursuits takes intentional, stubborn effort. Worth it though, because our tomorrows are not unlimited.
When I was younger, I didn’t realize a future wasn’t something to take for granted. I was shocked in my 40s to realize futures shrink, and mine was much smaller than it used to be.
That task list I chip away at every day is not unimportant. As a single working parent, I’m kept plenty busy doing things that matter all day long.
Yet, a voice whispers all the time about those other pursuits that also matter….that longing to express life’s meaning and purpose in words…sometimes in stories, a poem, a journal or blog. But how the days stretch into months and years (and yikes, decades) while this voice keeps persistently whispering – a little louder now– better find a way to carve out time, not some day, but this day! Otherwise, that day never will come.
Scary to think I won’t always have time stretching ahead of me. I’m more comfortable with the idea that the time to write and express myself creatively sits out there, patiently waiting on a lily pad until I finally decide to sit still and write.
That idea of “that day will come later” is deadly dangerous. Instead of being a nice floating lily pad waiting for me, that notion is really a monster with a huge gaping mouth that’s quietly but aggressively swallowing my days, weeks and months in one gulp after another. Those days get swallowed so easily, nearly without notice.
What’s finally bringing that point home is watching my son grow up. He’s fifteen now. I had a child late in life, so friends my age have sent their kids to college already, or are even grandparents – many times over. But whether I look at their kids or my own, there’s no denying the ravenous appetite of the monster who’s eating my days. And if I’m not intentional about how I spend my time, I’ll just keep feeding it day after day without taking time for those special things that aren’t “required” but are oh so irreplaceably important.
So then, if I steal back a little time for myself each day to write, maybe a task or two is left undone that day. Is that a worthy price? If I do that for a month, or a year, the writing I would have to show for that time…will I value those pieces of writing more than the tasks that got delayed or bumped? Assuming one of those tasks wasn’t forgetting ot pay the mortgage or feed the dog for a week, undoubtedly, yes I know I would value having that writing.
I love the pivotal scene in Dead Poet Society where the teacher, John Keating (Robin Williams), stands on his desk and tells the class to view the world differently. One by one, the kids step up, each taking their turn to climb on his desk, look around, and step down again. I’m forever gripped by the climactic scene at the end when one lone student decides to rebel against the pressure to conform. He gets up on his desk and stands above the classroom to honor the remarkable teacher, the one who dared to pry open their eyes and push them to a higher plain, where the view was oh so different. This student is going to embrace a future he will define for himself. He’s going to take hold of his own life. Carpe diem.
I’ve watched that scene again and again. In the aftermath of the tragic loss of their friend to suicide, the boys are forced to come to terms with the two polar ways of living life they’ve been exposed to. One is the rigid, conformance-demanding lifestyle of “do what I say, fall in line and comply,” which threatens to smother the voice that beckons….
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…” and
“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”
Has anyone ever told you to climb on that desk and have a look around? Someone challenged me to see life from a different stance and I’m forever grateful. I’m still struggling to make full use of what I saw, and still see, up there…and no one can rob me of that view…except me.
The call we have to create is a call to be, not simply to “do.”
Dorothy watched her time slip through the hourglass in the Wicked Witch’s castle as she awaited rescue by her three friends and Toto. But we don’t have a Scarecrow, a Tin Man, and a Cowardly Lion to rescue us. It’s up to us to make the choices that change what we do with our sand grains as they pass by.
Annie Dillard said, “The way we live our days is the way we live our lives.”
If you are cut out to take the plunge, here are three ways to help you seize some days:
1. Elevate and reshape your perspective. Climb a hill (a desk with grass and dirt), take a second look at your garden or the flowers growing along the roadside, the sunset, or a lingering look at your child’s face when he or she is speaking to you. Think about God and something bigger than yourself.
2. Co-prioritize your to-do list. If you’re like me, you can’t simply abandon your regular task list because there’s a price to pay when things slip. But perhaps you can find a way to shift and adjust how and when you get things done so you can carve out a few minutes each day for something beyond the mundane list, necessary as it is. Teach your kids to do the same.
3. Take a baby step each day. Take just 15 minutes to climb on a desk and see a different view. Perhaps start the first day by reading a poem and contemplating it throughout the day. Repeat the next day. On day three, write a few lines of your own that express what’s on your heart that day.
Once let out of the gate, you’ll be amazed at how easily the words start to come…in a million ways you can’t imagine until you begin the journey and see for yourself.
Seize this day!
I sure do miss Robin Williams. A heartfelt thank you to him for his life, his laughter, his unbounded zaniness, and for portraying John Keating in a way that touches our deepest longings and beckons us not just to grasp, but to seize our dreams.
“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven– A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.…”