The scene is a diner, somewhere in Florida. Nothing fancy, just an average truck stop off Route 95. There’s a guy of around fifty years old in the bathroom washing his hands. His name is John. He checks himself in the mirror, yawns, thinking about nothing in particular, mentally preparing to get back in his car and head out on the freeway. Neither good nor bad looking, he runs a damp hand over his bald patch, the one he is convinced is not too obvious, at least from the front. He’s tired, despite or because of that third cup of coffee that he’s now regretting. Sometimes it feels like his life is going nowhere. He’s been selling insurance for twenty years. It’s a living. Most days he’s in a trance like the rest of us, going about his business quietly, with no expectations, and today is no different. He often breaks his journey at this diner. There’s a waitress he’s friendly with. She always has a smile for him. Today she brought him a late breakfast of hash browns with bacon and maple syrup.
He turns towards the hand dryer. Suddenly the door to the bathroom crashes open and another man comes blundering in, clutching his chest and groaning with pain, his features twisted into a look of pure anguish. He’s wearing a blinding white shirt that only accentuates the deep crimson of the blood that’s pouring from him, dripping down his arms onto the tiled floor. As he stumbles forward, desperately groping for the nearest sink to lean on, John’s mind freezes in panic. Should he crouch back in the toilet closet and pray? Or would it be better to make a run for it? Some madman out there is on a shooting spree, just like you see on the news every day, except this isn’t a random video on Youtube, to be consumed as routinely as a plate of hash browns. This is happening right here, right now. And John is next. The look on his face is of a man facing extinction, looking death squarely in the face. And I am perfectly positioned to see this look…
…because I am the man bleeding to death.
We all inhabit a ‘movie’ of our own life, whether we like it or not, and we spend our lives trying to figure out what that movie is about and what our role is in it. Because we’re human beings with the gift of Universal Thought, we are easily persuaded that something is true when it is completely false. The thoughts don’t stop coming, and though they are in themselves neutral, totally lacking any power to harm us in any way, we still feel ourselves to be at their mercy. We still invest those thoughts with emotions, and those emotions are very often negative.
The story I’ve just told is true. At least it was all too true for John, (if that was in fact his name, I didn’t ask), in those frantic seconds before he realized what was actually going on. As is always the case, it was a matter of perspective. It’s true that I blundered into the bathroom, but I wasn’t clutching at my chest, just my horribly stained white shirt. And it’s true that I was groaning, but not in pain. I was groaning because my lunch was spoiled, and from the realization that I would have to buy another shirt, since this one was covered in ketchup. It wasn’t anguish I was feeling, but anger mixed with disgust. Why couldn’t somebody have warned me that the top of the bottle was loose? I’m English and I always shake a ketchup bottle, because unless you do, in England anyway, nothing will come out.
The other details, about John and his job in finance…? I made them up, to add a bit of drama. But what was going on in his head was equally made up. Judging from how white he went, John could have dropped dead on the spot, for no good reason at all. He took a lifetime’s worth of news bulletins and in microseconds cast himself as the victim in a scary movie. We are all ‘John’. I’m not trying to take the drama out of life. On the contrary, the understanding that we create our own experience in the moment, and that it is within each of us to create a better story, a better ‘movie’ for ourselves, is enormously empowering. There will always be situations that place us in danger, times when we need that adrenalin rush to help us to think quickly and act decisively, but right now too many of us are living in fear, victims not of gun crime, but of our own thoughts. That has to change.
What role do you play in the movie of your life?