I may be one of the only people in America who does not watch Downton Abbey (at least that’s what I gather from Facebook), but lucky for me, if anything dramatic happens, Facebook lets me know. It seems that this weekend, something dramatic happened on Downton Abbey. Something tearful. I don’t know what. I can’t say that I care. A lot of people care. A lot of people cried. I’m sad for them. Really. (Don’t make me take a polygraph on that one). I’m not sure if they were crying for a character or if they were crying because of a presented idea. I’m going to guess they were crying about a nonexistent being.
I watched an incredible French film this weekend titled Hedgehog. I thought it was just going to be one of those odd little films that you watched and went, “Huh.” (I watch an excess of odd foreign films, and this is often my response). The premise was that of a little girl of about 11 who had decided that adults lived their lives like goldfish in a fish bowl. And since that seemed ridiculous to her, she would take her life on the eve of her 12th birthday. Then, she makes a relationship with the superintendent in her building. I will not tell you anything else because I WANT you to go and watch this movie. I wept like a baby, in response to the movie’s commentary on life. There are smile-worthy moments as well. (I believe it was made after a book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Just watch the film.)
We get so invested in these characters, imaginary beings, people living different lives. Why? Is it because they are living lives we wished we were living? Is it because they have more drama in their lives? It’s not just television, movies, but also books, dreams. We see things happening and rather than wondering how we can bring it into our own life and enrich what is right in front of us we let ourselves be sucked away into other worlds, an escape. Now hold on one minute here, I am NOT saying that I do not enjoy a great film, or book, or television show. I also finished two great books this weekend and I love to be taken away in imaginary tales. To open the mind into nonexistent places, to dream, is the only way we can envision greater things for our own lives. What I am calling into question is, what if we paid as much heed to our friends and as much interest in their lives as we do to these television characters?!
How often have you waited on a phone call to/from a friend because you were watching your favorite TV show? Or you got together with a friend, and you discussed what happened in a television show before you talked about what was going on in your own life? We have become so accustomed to people not caring and being interested in what’s going on with us that when they actually do it seems out of place, bizarre, like there’s something wrong with them for being so invested in our life. There’s something wrong when we are more aware of the changes in the lives of imaginary people than the ones who are right in front of us. The ease of living that has come to us is turning us into a bunch of mindless cotton balls.
Clearly, people have not forgotten how to feel, or they would not be crying about the characters on Downton Abbey. Feelings abound! Mindless doesn’t mean soulless, thank goodness. Maybe we are just afraid to show our feelings to/for our real people. (Conversely, are we also afraid to receive them?) Perhaps for a moment, we could redirect some of our feelings. Feel a little less about someone fake, and a little more about someone real. Get a little bit more excited about the fact that someone had broccoli with his dinner. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s better than eating rocks. The excitement doesn’t just say, “I’m glad you ate broccoli, not rocks,” but “Hey, I’m glad you exist.” (And to all of my friends, I just don’t care if you think I’m weird for caring too much about you. There is no “too much.”)
Since I’ve been forced to look at Downton Abbey Facebook posts for the last 24 hours, I feel compelled to leave you with something moving from one of the books I read this weekend. Perhaps you can discuss it, instead of Downton Abbey, with your friends. It is surely just as moving. In the book, they are discussing a young man who has fallen in love with a planet. He sent all his thoughts to the planet, his dreams, his love - they reached it unbeknownst to him. He thought he was doomed to live silently in unrequited love.
Once he stood again on the high cliff at night by the sea and gazed at the planet and burned with love for it. And at the height of his longing he leaped into the emptiness toward the planet, but at the instant of leaping “it’s impossible” flashed once more through his mind. There he lay on the shore, shattered. He had not understood how to love. If at the instant of leaping he had had the strength of faith in the fulfillment of his love he would have soared into the heights and been united with the star.
From Demian – Hermann Hesse
Translated by Michael Roloff and Michael Lebeck