How Much Does Your Life Weigh

George Clooney’s character in the film, Up the Air, gives a memorable speech where he asks, “How much does your life weigh?”

I’ve seen the movie twice now, and both times I’ve got lost in thought each time I’ve watched this scene.

How much does my life weigh?

Currently it weighs a lot. I’m responsible for providing life’s basics for six people and one dog. When I write that I can feel the weight. Yet that’s how I set it up. That’s what I was taught. I go to school. Get married. Buy a home and have some children.

Isn’t that how we define success in America? The size of our home and the emblem on our cars. The instruments our children play and the camps and schools they attend. The blueprint for success has already been created. All we have to do is follow it. Yet nobody forced me to follow the blueprint. It was my own doing.

I’m starting to rethink how I define success.

I used to place a lot of value on not only my job title but the prestige that came working for a well-known and respected company. I used to think we had to raise our children in a certain neighborhood among people of our education and economic levels. At times I’ve felt the need to spend more time at work and church taking on more projects. Whoever can complete the largest to-do list was the winner. The busier the better.

But the older I get I see that this way of thinking does not lead to happiness. It focuses on the quantity instead of the quality of life. More is less. A lot less.

I recently came across an interview with former CNN host, Lou Dobbs. He worked at CNN for nearly 30 years and served as the host of Moneyline as well as a corporate executive at CNN. This is a man who graduated from Harvard and earned tens of millions of dollars as a news personality.

Yet when asked to complete the phrase, “I wish…, Dobbs replied “I spent more time with the kids”.

Here’s a guy who had the means to do whatever he wanted. Certainly he could find time to spend with his four children if he so desired. Yet our culture doesn’t place a lot of importance on how much time fathers spend with their children. That’s mom’s job or, more often, the nanny or child care provider’s responsibility.

I hope I never look back on my life and answer that question the same way Dobbs did. That would be a nightmare scenario. Dobbs lives on a 300 acre farm. He has whatever money can buy. Yet what he wishes for something which can’t be bought. No amount of money will bring back the years he could have spent with his children. Who cares how big your house is if it’s empty.

I’m slowly starting to remove things from my life that take away from time I can spend with my children. I’m going to commit myself to fewer projects. I’m going to watch less TV and more time reading or telling stories with my kids. I’m going to call my parents and siblings instead of goofing around on the internet so much. I’m going to look for opportunities to give service. I worked on a friend’s computer for a few hours this month, and I felt great afterwards.

I want more of that in my life.

This past week I did something I wish I had done months before. I turned off email on my iPhone so I would not be tempted to read or reply to it. I had over 30 unread emails when I sat down at my desk this morning. And you know what? I survived. No email is so important that it should pull me away from my family on the weekend.

I’m hoping that as I strip away distractions and activities that the next time I hear Clooney give his speech, I’ll say to myself, “My life weighs less than it did it a month ago”.

Stripes and Solids

The only rule we followed was never play anyone who brought their own cue stick. Otherwise, we had no problem taking money from students at Weber State College. All winnings went straight into the jukebox or the Space Invaders pinball machine. You know, the one with 4 flippers and extra wide lanes. Back when games were a quarter, 500k secured a position on the High Scores board and free games were easy to come by. 2221804368_b46e238063

My next door neighbor was cool. He even had a cool name: Guy.

Guy had his own paper route. I filled in for him one week and he gave me five bucks and a Guinness Book of World Records paperback. I would have done it for the book. Who can forget the guy with the longest fingernails? I thumbed through the book until the pages fell out.

Guy was going to be an architect. So, of course, I wanted to be an architect although I had no idea what one did.

I don’t recall how we got started hustling students, but I remember Guy telling me it was easier than landing papers on porches from the sidewalk on his Schwinn Stingray. The key was to select the right hits, and jocks were an easy target. They couldn’t back down from an 8-ball challenge. And we certainly didn’t look like a couple of pool sharks. The tables were located near the bowling alley. The perfect hit was a jock who could bowl a 225 or better.  Then we knew he had little time between studies and bowling for a little “stripes and solids”.

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That was our brilliant line of reasoning.

We didn’t lose very often. I’m surprised we were able to find students willing to play us through the summer. I suspect many were embarrassed they got hustled by a couple of teenagers and decided it was best to keep it on the low.

No more than few dollar changed hands, but that was enough to keep the jukebox going. Any 6 songs for a buck. If we had a few quarters left over for pinball even better.

We couldn’t play pool without queuing up tunes on the jukebox. Bennie and the Jets was always part of the mix. Those first few piano bars Elton laid down were magical. We had no idea what the lyrics meant. It was the music that grabbed us. It was impossible to listen to and not imagine myself pounding the keys while the crowd clapped and whistled.

When the jukebox stopped, it was time to jump on our bikes and race each other home. As we crossed Harrison Boulevard it was all I could do to keep up with Guy. Occasionally I’d catch him along the curve bordering the hospital parking lot. Nearing the home stretch, we’d be neck and neck until I slammed on my breaks at the stop sign just yards from my house. Guy never stopped. He celebrated each win by doing a wheelie in front of my house.

He wasn’t just cool. He was lucky.

Photo 1 by Sean Wakefield
Photo 2 by Thomas Hawk

Reckless Abandon

As I sat in the theater waiting for The Dark Knight to begin alongside rows full of exuberant fans I was reminded how good the movie going experience can be. I once stood in line for six hours in order to purchase tickets to Jurassic Park. The experience of watching a sold-out show with a group of crazy fans has been a rare event for me. Fans were cheering and screaming throughout the movie. It was an experience that’s nearly impossible to duplicated outside the theater.

That’s what it felt like last night as two friends waited in line with a large group of Batman fans. As we walked into the theater we passed a fan wearing a full bat suit.  The line snaked its way down the lighted corridor. Strangers discussed the early reviews.  A number of movie goers had their picture taken with the guy in the bat suit. There was a buzz in the air, and I believe it had a lot to do with the performance of the late Heath Ledger.

There is a scene in The Dark Knight that perfectly captures Ledger’s mesmerizing performance. Many scenes with him include explosions, fireballs, and chase scenes. Chaos at its best. But this one scene reminded me of how I felt when I watched the scene in The Shawshank Redemption where Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) played Mozart for over the prison sound system. Interspersed between the violence resides this reflective, emotional moment where the actor and character meld into one. It’s transcends all other scenes. 

My favorite scene in Dark Knight takes place after a fantastic cat and mouse chase scene. Eventually, the Joker steals a police car and we see Ledger hang his head outside the car like we’ve all done as kids. His shabby hair dandles in the wind and his face paint appears more ominous than ever. He’s taking it all in. All the destruction. All the chaos. It’s Gotham City on his terms and he’s enjoying every minute of it.

I loved it. I won’t forget it.

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