“Most of us lead far more meaningful lives than we know” wrote Rachel Naomi Remen in her great memoir, My Grandfather’s Blessings.
For most of us the meaning of our life is right under our nose. It’s been there all our lives; we fail to see it because we are focused on the distant horizon, the giant landscape, wondering when our day will finally arrive.
One of my favorite movies this past year has turned out to be The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), starring Ben Stiller. It’s based on a character created by New Yorker writer James Thurber in 1939, a man who spent most of his life daydreaming about being a hero, saving the day, doing something epic that proved his existence to the world, proved that he mattered.
In the movie, Walter Mitty discovers that his fantasies are actually holding him back from living his real life. He learns: don't dream it, be it.
This movie is for all us dreamers. And for all of us who feel stuck. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty tells the story of everyone who has a secret life they want to live. That includes me. Even now as I’m typing I’m thinking of adventures I want to have, changes I want to make, goals I want to achieve.
To quote from another movie, Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About, “I just don’t want to come to the end of my live and have to say, “I was gonna be different but I chickened out when I had the chance.”
In the movie, Ben Stiller’s character, Walter Mitty, works for Life Magazine as the Negative Asset Manager. Even his job title sounds diminishing. His job was to record and track all the photographic negatives stored in the magazine archives, not a small thing with a magazine based on excellent world-changing photos.
But for Mitty, it never felt like enough.
A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend, and we were discussing how we both wanted to live the second half of our lives in a way that mattered. He had obviously spent lots of time thinking about it, and mentioned one of his wealthy friends who had chartered a ship to take food around the world where crises had occurred. My friend long to do something like that, something larger-than-life, something unmistakable.
I thought he was missing the most important part of his own life. He has been a professional musician his entire life. Even more, he’s been a coach and mentor to younger musicians, helping them move to toward the next level of their career. That’s his life passion, it’s what makes his eyes light up, it’s where he has made his greatest contribution so far.
I thought his hopes for a grand gesture would be even grander if he poured his second-half into more musical mentoring.
Rachel Naomi Remen wrote, “Often finding meaning is not about doing things differently; it is about seeing familiar things in new ways. When we find new eyes, the unsuspected blessing in work we have done for many years may take us completely by surprise … perhaps it is only by those who speak the language of meaning, who have remembered how to see with their heart, that life is ever deeply known or served.”
Walter Mitty learned that his daily work, something he did with care and precision and detail and focus, day in and day out, was where he made his greatest impact on the world. His dedication to the grand vision of Life Magazine was more important than any of those larger-than-life hero adventures he imagined.
He was living his most meaningful life all along. How about you?
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32