Today is the first day of high school baseball practice for my son, whom I love more than I can ever tell you. He deserves everything wonderful, and if you know him, you agree with me. It’ll be the last first day of practice, and that fills me with every kind of emotion you can imagine. So let’s talk about Argo instead.
Argo won the best picture Oscar in 2012. I hadn’t seen it until yesterday, I always wanted to, and who knows why I didn’t? It was a full day with lots of weight, stimulation and being “on.” After speaking publicly, I am wide open and terribly vulnerable, so I usually try to avoid much personal contact afterwards for a block of time. Yesterday I didn’t have a choice, and by the time I returned home and finished the last of my responsibilities, I crashed into the belly of my soft, comfy sofa.
Probably the best thing I could’ve watched was something I’d seen a thousand times before, like Return of the Jedi or the first Avengers. I like them and don’t have to plug in at all. The worst thing would’ve been a breathlessly suspenseful thriller that I had never seen before about the extraction of American hostages trapped in Iran in 1979-80. 81% of Google users “liked” it, which makes me wonder about the other 19. Who are they, and why do they hate movies so much? Maybe they just hate Ben Affleck?
Instead of watching through half-closed eyelids in my couch, I watched the last hour standing in the middle of the room. This was not a restful experience in the least.
Anyway. When Affleck arrives in Iran, meets the hostages and informs them that they will be a movie crew scouting locations for a science-fiction movie (“Argo”), they have to decide if they will participate in this human heist. The 6 men & women haven’t left the Canadian embassy for months, are in grave danger, but this plan is “the best of the bad ideas” and presents overwhelming danger, as well. Would they become paralyzed by their fear and incapable of movement? Would they risk everything? And if so, would that risk end in America or in death?
How many times are we faced with the same decision? We’re confined to a “room” we know, whether it’s a relationship, job, worldview, whatever, and leaving is terrifying. Usually someone comes through the door with an offer, an invitation – someone has to, we simply don’t leave on our own – and the scene is the same. What if it doesn’t work out? What if we fail? What if there’s nothing and no one out there for me? How will it end?
We’ve all heard that awful cliche: better the devil you know. We all hate it, too. But cliches get that way because they’re often true. We do choose to stay in rotten dead-end jobs, with abusive, unfaithful boy- and girl-friends, seeing the world though cracked lenses because the fear of the unknown is vicious and unrelenting. The questions are the same, what if what if what if how will it end????? Will I be ok? Is this the right choice? How do I know?
The bad news is that we don’t. The hostages didn’t. It could’ve easily been a very different film, the tragedy of a doomed rescue attempt. We all know friends who have forgotten who they are and why they’re here and settled for 2am texts and generations of damage and a long tradition of outdated -isms. But the first step out the door, to write the 2 week notice, to take the shot, with the adrenaline freezing in your veins, is the hardest one, isn’t it?
High school is my boy’s Canadian embassy. And mine. He’s familiar, we’re familiar, it’s (relatively) safe, at least it appears safe. He knows where the rooms are, when the classes change. He is no prisoner here, at home, he’s only confined by the chains in his mind. What will he do when there are no more last firsts? Will he take that first, hardest step?
Will he fail? Of course he will. At least I hope he does. The only ones who don’t fail are the ones that stay inside these rooms. But that’s not true, either. What we don’t always recognize is that staying is failure, too, just a different sort. I hope he shoots a million times and misses a ton of them. I hope he dreams. And I hope he breaks out of all of these rooms and really lives.