There is a scene at the beginning of Meet Joe Black where Anthony Hopkins, a titan, is sitting with his daughter on their helicopter. He’s concerned about her choice of partner, concerned she’s abandoned her heart in favor of predictability and basic compatibility, and he implores her to forget her head and follow her heart. What’s the point of living life without this? he asks.
I’ve watched this clip maybe 100 times since the movie was first released in 1998. 20 years later, its effects still radiate through my veins. I’ve always looked to literature, film, theater and television for guidance. Story, after all, is how we make sense of our world and ourselves. The ones we’re drawn to reflect our deeper yearnings and our desired place. It’s interesting how many of us speak to this theme when so many of us chain ourselves to societal expectation.
Freedom is an inside job. We often think of it as a construct, a life absent of limitation or obligation. But really, isn’t it the willingness to expose ourselves through action and declaration that liberates us from psychological imprisonment?
In this clip, Hopkins is referring to falling in love, but the same could be said for career or location. So often we live from the head, organizing our lives so as ensure a degree of safety. And yet, there inevitably comes a point when we question whether these choices are serving us or just serving our fears. We realize that security, for all its perceived comfort, cannot actually be achieved through external means. It’s built over time, through grit and resilience and the awareness that, no matter how our lives unfold, we have the capacity to overcome.
We go to the movies and read books to both see ourselves, and to escape monotony. We crave the excitement or the great story in a packaged form that we can digest without disruption in the safe confines of a darkened room. But isn’t the point of art to wake us up? It’s the whisper before the shout, our soul’s calling us forward. We’re drawn to stories and images for a reason. They’re not just fantasy. They speak to a deeper knowing of what we believe– in our core– is possible for us. They speak to the very essence of who we are.
As grounded as I am, I believe in magic and mystery and grace. And I believe in destiny. Call me a dreamer. The truth is that there are no guarantees in this life. But the more we trust in our heart’s calling, the more our lives will flow. It may not always be perfect, but it can always be meaningful.
It took me many years to really heed the message of this film, but the tendency and inclination was there all along.
I don’t know why we fight ourselves so hard, why we unnecessarily complicate our lives when the truth is so simple, so obvious. We crave the interwoven freedom and security of being seen and accepted, of being known. But like anything else, it begins within. The clues to our deeper selves are repeatedly reflected back to us. All we have to do is surrender to them.