When Life Doesn’t Turn Out the Way You Want

“We live the given life, and not the planned.”

Wendell Berry, This Day

In the movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Richard Dreyfuss plays a young composer who has aspirations of writing a major symphony that will become his legacy. Fresh out of college, he takes what he believes to be a temporary job as a high school band director simply to pay the bills. But then his wife gets pregnant. They have a son, who turns out to be deaf. He has to take on a second job to send him to a special school. More and more responsibilities demand his attention, making it more and more difficult to work on his symphony. Life goes by quickly, and at the end of the movie as he nears retirement, he is told that the music program he has inadvertently devoted his life to is being cut because the school district can’t afford it.

Now, at the age of sixty, he feels it’s too late to realize his dream as a composer, and so must work through his belief that his life was wasted.

It’s not one of the best movies. But it is one that has stuck with me since it came out in 1995. For near the end, Mr. Holland quotes a John Lennon lyric (originally attributed to Allen Saunders), that sums up his experience,

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

The truth is, life doesn’t turn out the way that most of us want. And even for those lucky few who get exactly what they wanted, more often than not, it’s not what they expected.

This is a good thing.

Imagine a world where everything is predictable. Where days go by with no surprises. Where everyone gets exactly what they want, when they want it.

What kind of a world would that be? Probably hell.

Life is most aware of itself in the surprises–in those moments when our eyes widen, our breath deepens, our hearts quicken, and we feel a tingle in our fingertips. Sometimes the moment reminds us it’s good to be alive. And sometimes the moment requires that we figure out a way of staying alive through the surprise.

Either way, we become aware that nothing is more precious than the next breath.

And by being able to take another breath we are a moment closer to there being a tomorrow.

Which is, after all, another day.

Photo credit: Mr & Mrs Apteryx australis on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

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