Dedicated to my brother, Michael, for keeping the memories alive
“Ms. Berman, sometimes I wonder, what’s the point of life? I am not depressed or anything; I'm really just trying to figure it all out. Right now it seems as if all we do is work hard in high school so we can get into an amazing college. But then we will have to work hard in college in order to get into grad school, and then after that, we will be working our butts off to earn a living (or so we are told).”
Knowing that I owe this student a satisfactory explanation, and he is a right-brained thinker, I decided to frame my response as an analogy: If we were to compare a person’s life to a two hour movie, I started to explain, the singular moments could be thought of as the snapshots within that movie. Although the bigger events within the life of a teenager, planning for college, career, and possibly later, a family, are all important, they are the infrastructure which affords a person the opportunities to have the best case scenario of snapshots throughout his/her developmental young adult and later years.
How do we know when we have experienced a meaningful/successful/positive snapshot? Let me begin by addressing deprivation and disappointment. We, as humans, go to great lengths to avoid both of these situations for ourselves and for our loved ones. If you think about it, however, when has food tasted better than ever? Often when eaten after too many hours of going without. When does success feel the most rewarding? Often after repeated failures were experienced prior to achieving such success. The point being that it is only the contrast of the positive and negative experiences in our lives that allow us to recognize the beauty of the good. Rather than feeling shame for our negatives, it would be better to view them as a baseline of comparison by which we learn to appreciate all that is exemplary around us.
In reference to the snapshots of life, I am talking about the short-lived moments, or even a period of days, in which our actions, or those of another person’s, have a subtle, but profound impact on our personal happiness and well-being. These snapshots occur every day and are unique to each of us, as our personalities guide us in our human gestures. As a young child my Grandma told me: “You don’t know the number of people whom you will affect on this earth. Be kind to everyone, for the person who is the least kind to you, is probably in the most pain.” And thus the recognition of snaphots began in my life, following the wisdom and faith of this half blind woman who could still “see” twice as much as the rest of us. It is typically best if societal snapshots, in which we are primarily giving to others, are balanced with personal snapshots, in which we are in the giving/receiving mode. For me, my societal gestures vary but are usually based upon listening to a stranger telling me their “life story.” My family and closest friends tease me that I have a “tell me everything” sticker on my forehead, and perhaps I do. None-the-less, I tend to bring out the more personal side in people, as the thing that they crave most is to be listened to and validated.
My most significant personal snapshots, however, revolve around my family and close friends. I have seen too many friendships and families torn apart by internal squabbles over money, control, jealousy, etc. and I avoid letting those issues destroy my relationships. So whether it be participating in the July 4th Fun Run with my 24 year-old daughter, discussing philosophy with my son, taking the dog for a walk with my husband of almost 30 years, planning a trip to a winery to celebrate my younger daughter’s 21st, or enjoying a day at the beach with my girlfriends, I cherish the moments that I spend with the most precious people in my life. These personal snapshots cannot be bought for any amount of money, nor are they dependent upon what college I graduated from. These are the snippets of life that matter the most to me, as they bring me the deepest kind of joy and satisfaction.
It is important to note that no matter where you are within the context of your movie, know that you are making a difference along the way, even when you don’t think that you are. So continue planning the script for your movie, but be sure to savor those shapshots. These sacred moments are what give most of us our sustenance. Remember life is about the sharing of ourselves with everyone with whom we come in contact, in order to bring a collective support system to our society at large. And that, my student, is the point!