Saturday, January 8, 2011

Life Lessons Learned from a Movie

Ring in the New Year, Readers Mine!

OK, so that's a few days late. It doesn't matter, not really. Kindly permit me to tell you why.

Some years, you see, I make resolutions for the new year and some years I don't. This year, I made several, but they all can be boiled down to one central concept - with everything (and I mean everything) I do, I plan to first ask myself, "Self, how can I enjoy this more?" I hope asking myself this question will remind me of where I am and what I'm doing there. Of course, the new year is currently still in single digits, so I don't have much evidence to report just yet, but I can say that asking this question does have the tendency to stop me in my tracks and re-direct my thinking. After all, we only get one shot at this life and I don't want to waste it away by not even realizing why I'm doing what I'm doing. At the end of it all, I would greatly prefer to have a long list of regrets from things I actually did as opposed to things I missed because I was too busy.

Therefore, when I had the chance on Thursday to go to a restored movie theatre here in town to see the Jimmy Stewart classic Harvey with some friends, I went. The syllabi for next week could wait. And hey, only three bucks a ticket!

Wow. I'd forgotten what a sweet, charming and downright wise film this is. Rent it - you can learn a lot from a tall, invisible rabbit. (I hear he believed in the message of the film so much that he agreed to sacrifice his usual fee and only work for scale.)

Among the gems in this film: a shrink is trying desperately to get to the root of Elwood P. Dowd's delusions about Harvey. Surely Elwood has just made up this creature and taken the name from someone he knew at some earlier point of his life. Elwood will not be swayed.

"Didn't you know somebody, sometime, someplace by the name of Harvey? Didn't you ever know anybody by that name?"
"No. No, not one, Doctor. Maybe that's why I always had such hopes for it."

That's after this: "Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it."

Elwood drinks a bit, but he's pleasant and puts on no airs, despite being quite wealthy. The patrons at his local don't mind Harvey all that much (when asked if Elwood is alone, the bartender replies, "Well, there's two schools of thought, sir."). Elwood realizes that life has some very sharp edges that people tend to get snagged on and he sees his nightly bar conversations as a form of what we today might call therapy:

"Harvey and I sit in the bars, have a drink or two, play the juke box. And soon the faces of all the other people they turn toward mine and they smile. . . . And they come over and they sit with us and they drink with us, and they talk to us. They tell about the big terrible things they've done and the big wonderful things they'll do. Their hopes, and their regrets, and their loves, and their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. And then I introduce them to Harvey and he's bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back; but that's envy, my dear. There's a little bit of envy in the best of us. "

Since only Elwood can see Harvey, Elwood is thought to be a nutter. His very respectable sister wants him locked away in a sanitarium, away from respectable people. A doctor suggests that he can cure Elwood with an injection that will remove the delusion. While the sister at first approves of this treatment, a cab driver sets her straight:

"I've been driving this route for 15 years. I've brought 'em out here to get that stuff, and I've drove 'em home after they had it. It changes them. On the way out here, they sit back and enjoy the ride. They talk to me; sometimes we stop and watch the sunsets, and look at the birds flyin'. Sometimes we stop and watch the birds when there ain't no birds. And look at the sunsets when its raining. We have a swell time. And I always get a big tip. But afterwards, oh oh . . . They crab, crab, crab. They yell at me. 'Watch the lights. Watch the brakes, Watch the intersections.' They scream at me to hurry. They got no faith in me, or my buggy. Yet, it's the same cab, the same driver, and we're going back over the very same road. It's no fun. And no tips. After this he'll be a perfectly normal human being. And you know what stinkers they are!"

Elwood's sister doesn't want to lose her gentle brother and if the only way she can have him is to accept Harvey, well . . . there's your happy ending, folks. Elwood's figured out that, while life will always be hard, we don't have to be so nasty to one another about our trials. As he puts it, in that inimitable Stewart drawl, "Years ago my mother used to say to me . . . 'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me."

"Normal" is a big tent. I joked with FryDaddy that Harvey could never be set in the American South, for we like our eccentricities too much. We'd never lock someone up for having a tall, invisible rabbit for a companion - we'd probably set an extra place at the supper table for him.

Yet we do get caught up in "normal."

Bad habit. Lesson learned from a rabbit.

(Hey, that rhymes!)

1 comment:

Sue said...

Did I ever mention how much I love your writing? Well, mentioning now, if I haven't before. Good thoughts as I attempt to beat down the rising panic monsters of unfinished class syllabi and paper submissions.

I did choose this path because I enjoyed it, right? Hmm.