One of my favorite movies of all time is the early Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan Sleepless in Seattle. I can’t help it; I’m a hopeless romantic.
Maybe I should say “hopeful” romantic. My wish for everyone would be the kind of relationship that fills you up to the point that there isn’t enough time or space to list all the details that make your special person unique and wonderful. Some of us–the lucky ones–find that in our lives. Others miss out, not because of who they are, or what they have to offer, but simply because they happen to be somewhere else when the magic moment might have occurred.
The movie, one of (co-writer/director) Nora Ephron’s wonderful, touching, funny, completely delightul offerings, is basically a story of how two people almost meet and fall in love. Over and over. We know, of course, that they’ll get together in the end. How could it be otherwise?
There’s a backstory. At one point, Hanks’ character is unwillingly chatting with a late night talk-show host about his wife, who has died. When the host asks him what made this woman special, his answer is, “Well, how long is your program?” Those six words make the whole magical story possible.
There’s always a backstory, but if often stays hidden. We see the characters in the movie, or the book, and our imaginations supply the little bits and pieces of their lives that must have been there to make this person kind and that person obnoxious. Any writer (screenwriter, playwright) who wants to connect with his audience must have a backstory. The good writer keeps it comfortably in the background; the great writer lets his character tell the tale without saying anything. Nora Ephron puts it in six words.
It might be the rapidly approaching holidays that bring this bit of introspection. For obvious reasons, the images of Christmas all include laughing children and smiling, rather complacent parents surrounded by tinselly trees and bright lights. Nativity scenes pop up on front lawns, and fatherly Santas bestow hearty laughter on us all. If we took away the tinsel and the gifts, what would remain in all of this is love.
Pretty hokey, huh? Maybe “love” is too strong a word. Perhaps “caring” would work better since it allows a varying degree of distance.
I care for my special person to a degree that I care for no one else–the Sleepless situation. I care for my children so much that I can feel physical pain when they are unhappy and swell with pride to see kindness and integrity and intelligence show through them. I expect these things. They’ve been part of my life for many years. I’m one of the lucky ones; that’s my backstory.
A lot of people aren’t so fortunate. Some of them were burdened from the start with abusive environments, some had tragic accidents, others made poor choices that set them on an unhappy path. But, surprisingly, I care about all of them. I can’t say that I like all of them, and regardless of any religious connotation I certainly don’t love all of them, but I do care. They are all a part of me, you see. Every thing and every person that exists–or has ever existed–has made my world what it is.
This kind of deep thinking doesn’t hit me often. My posts tend to be more of the “I love Crisco!” variety.But it can’t do any harm if, once in a while, I take a moment to realize that my affections go beyond my family. If I do something about it, so much the better. A phone call to an old friend, a food basket for a needy family, a holiday card for a serviceman, a blood donation. These things take a little time, maybe a little cash, and most important, a little caring. Small enough cost to make me a part of someone else’s backstory.
Will any of a person’s small actions make a difference in the world?
Well, how long is your program?
I’ll see you again, after the commercial.