“Okay, so why doesn’t he go home? Either he lives in the village with her, or he takes her back home with him!” —Medusa of the Cinema
Last night, Claire and I watched Princess Mononoke at BYU’s International Cinema. I first saw that movie close to ten years ago, and enjoyed it then for different reasons than I do now. In the film, our male protagonist finds himself in a war and decides to make neither party his antagonist (despite each side’s best attempts to make him choose between them). Also, there’s a girl (duh). By the end, peace abides and because he took no loyalties the protagonist is left completely exposed to his future. To the medusa sitting behind us in the theater, our protagonist’s future was quite obvious: he gets the girl (duh) and returns home.
Much to her chagrin, he decided to help the local village rebuild, and the girl decided to go back to her old lifestyle. The poor medusa was having a fit and her question was ringing in my ears. Okay, so why doesn’t he go home? Clearly, the protagonist didn’t have a life goal to rebuild a village that was destroyed during a war that he wasn’t a part of. So what is he doing there?
What Do I Do Now?
Much like our protagonist, I’ve found myself exposed to the future this last week. Let me give you a little background on why. I make a little document, at the beginning of each year, that shows my daily, weekly, and yearly goals. Regularly, I check it, feel remorse, and celebrate my incapabilities by adding another goal to this list. For quite some time, making goals was just about the only goal I was keeping. That is, up until last week when I met all of my yearly goals—and more.
I sunk into the feeling of accomplishment, and started to look around me at everything that I am and that I own.
- I’m married
- I’ve served a two year mission for my church
- I have the liberty of doing what I love for work
- the trailer we live in (our home) is fully functional
- We just paid off both cars
- We each have a bicycle, laptops, and other tools for work and school
- Got Phones
- Got a dog
…and the rest of our lives ahead of us. Crap. Not only had I accomplished my goals for the year, but my goals for my entire life. I never could have dreamed I would plateau so early.
Let us presume, that from here I just want to stay alive. In order to stay alive, I’ll need a job; that job should fill a good chunk of the rest of my life, right? Living has its costs. Food, shelter, education: sure. I understand that good health, too, has its cost. And, that’s not to say that my vices aren’t doing their part in draining my bank account. The soda must be bought and, subsequently the fillings have their price tag.
But that’s not it for most people, and (the way I see it) we can go only one of two ways in life: improve the quality of what we have or own or improve the quality of who we are. Quality, in both cases, is not such a bad thing to yearn for. It’s when perfection becomes synonymous with the highest level of quality that we find ourselves in trouble.
“When a man is warmed […], what does he want next? […] more and richer food, larger and more splendid houses, finer and more abundant clothing […] and the like.” -Thoreau
Where does your mind go during those moments (at the end of the day) after you’ve exercised, you’ve worked your socially approved eight hours, and you’ve eaten your three meals? Does it look to the left and see the looming pile of possible possession upgrades? You could get a newer car, or a newer pair of shoes, or a phone with a better camera, or even a newer plate of food. Does that quality improvement excite you? Do you dream of going home one night, sitting down, and realizing that everything around you is the level of quality you’ve always longed for? Finally you have that armchair, that TV, and that fresh coat of paint on the walls. Right? Something like that, anyway.
If that’s the case, it’s perfection that you’re really gazing (googly-eyed) at with complete disregard for self-esteem. The cost of quality has always held its premium. If you want to foot the bill for the quality of perfection, it will cost your healthy mind.
“The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” —Matthew 8:20
I’d like to point out the obvious: Matthew is not referring to living spaces. He’s referring to the circumstances surrounding a lifestyle choice. Circumstantially, a bus driver, too, has no place to lay his head. Not because a space isn’t available to him but because his decision to drive the bus (safely) interferes with his ability to lay his head. The driver could pull over, certainly, and lay down in the aisle, but not while keeping his responsibilities.
“You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success…and is the key to being regarded honorably.” —Jiro Ono
Our protagonist, I’m convinced, had long ago broken his gaze with the tower of potential improvements and instead began to look within. Settling down, returning home, (or whatever it was that medusa wanted for him) was an occupational hazard (to put it gruffly).
Okay, So Why Doesn’t He Go Home?
At some point in life, we have each decided to drive our life bus toward some remarkable destination. Hopefully, when we die, the weight of that responsibility transformed us into honorable, or particularly capable, and self aware human beings. Hopefully, we can own up to ourselves come that day. Should we walk (or rather, sit on) a different path and obtain those perfect possessions, will it not be them that own us? For they have decided the worth of our hours for work, and they have decided what occupies our thoughts.
It’s not that our protagonist can’t go home, or sleep. I hope those analogies aren’t too strong to overcome. Instead, I hope you see that the inclination you have to purchase and own as an attempt to stabilize your emotional mind is wrong. For security is lost as the substance of your life (time) becomes converted into cash, and distributed into the items you define yourself by and surround yourself with. For those items will always be imperfect, and will always need replacing.
“Why should a painter work if he is not transformed by his own painting?” ― Keith Haring
Keith Haring is an artist who created world renowned graffiti in a short thirty-two years. His art is iconic, imperfect, and has lasted long past his death. He took a risk by choosing an art form that was then considered worthless, and those risks transformed him. His, now publicly available, journals speak of the unique learning experiences graffiti afforded him. His art transformed him, and his transformations went into his art.
Do you think Keith Haring, really, would have been happier with a thinner LED LCD screen TV? Like our protagonist, he spent much of his short life fixing a village that was destroyed by a war he didn’t want to be a part of. Be the name of the war: aids, crime, corrupt government, or drugs.
But the medusa sitting behind me in the movie theatre insists that he’d be better off going back the way he came. For the sake of this world’s future, may we all be a little less like medusa and a little more inclined to look inside.