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is meant to invite and inspire you to maximize the joy in
Recently, I got to watch Martin Scorcese’s gem of a movie, Hugo, again. Embedded in this 126-minute lavish production which won Oscars for art direction, sound and visual effects, is a very brief, quiet conversation between Hugo, a 12-year old orphan, and Isabelle, a girl of about the same age whom he befriends. Isabelle is an orphan, too. Their meaningful dialogue is about how one finds a sense of purpose, or in essence, how one answers a rather existential question: Why am I here?
At about the same time that I watched Hugo and Isabelle discuss such a challenging topic, I had a conversation with a bereaved individual who, at a crossroads in her life, found herself asking, “What is the point? Why do I even bother?” She was not actively suicidal but she sure as heck frightened me with her candor. And then I remembered that after my mother’s death six years ago, I had some of those thoughts, too. I have talked with others in the wake of a big loss, or even worse, a cluster of losses, and many have expressed similar sentiments. They do not sound like a depressed, suicidal person sounds, but they will admit something along the lines of “I would not mind being dead.” This is not something people talk about readily. I wish they would. I suspect that it is more common than we might think to spend time in this uncomfortable territory while we grieve. But why?
“Maybe that is why broken machines make me so sad;
they cannot do what they are meant to do.
Maybe it is the same with people.
If you lose your purpose, it is like you are broken.”
~ Hugo Cabret, in the movie, Hugo
Following a major loss, our sense of purpose may be broken. Circumstances often call for us to re-invent ourselves, especially if the person/pet/job/ability/etc. that we have lost was an organizing principle of our lives. For example, when a widow, married to the same person for umpteen years, loses her spouse after months or years of caregiving, her sense of purpose will have to undergo some metamorphosis. If the reliable routine of your day revolves around when the dog gets fed, groomed, and walked, the death of that dog just might provoke a full-blown identity crisis.
Loss forces us to change and re-organize our selves and our lives. It is hard, wrenching work. Faced with the daunting task of re-purposing ourselves, “what’s the point?” thoughts come into play. I wonder if, at least some of the time, this is a smokescreen. Is it easier to say “I would not mind being dead,” in a grief-stricken state, when the alternative is to grow out of what might be an outdated purpose into a new one? In doing so, the death we are mourning may become even more real, and permanent, which is also frightening for many of us.
Some say we come into this life with a purpose. Perhaps. But what if we are meant to re-purpose ourselves once, twice, or more in our lifetimes? Few people stick to one occupation for their whole life, anymore. To ask that tough question, “Why am I here, now?” is scary, but what if your revised purpose brings more joy into your life? To quote the beloved Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the places you’ll go.”
Oh, the Places You’ll Go
Having sent off five graduation cards and gifts this year, commencement is very much on my mind. What do we typically ask the graduate donning a cap and gown? “What next?” As they leave the familiarity of school, and maybe even mourn the dispersal of friends and the familiar, they move on to the next chapter. Loss of a loved one, or a job, or whatever, is both a graduation and a commencement of a different sort. The same question applies: what next? Take the leap and re-purpose yourself if you need to!
Your June 2014 Prompts for Joy
Click here to see the abovementioned clip from the movie, Hugo.
Click here for a reading of Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go by John Lithgow.
Joy-Gram for June 2014
Do yourself a great big favor. Get the Hugo DVD at the library, and watch the whole thing!
This was a collage I created while I digested the impending death of my sister in the Fall of 2013.
By no means
do I have joy “figured out.” Please do not assume
that I do! I write Out On a Limb as much as a meditation for
myself in the ongoing pursuit of joy, as for you. I think this
pursuit is a lifelong journey and that the full experience
of joy is, at best, episodic. May we all have more episodes!
Martha Clark Scala, MFT · 721 Colorado Ave., Suite 201, Palo Alto, CA 94303 ·