I was listening to an interview on NPR while treadmilling this past weekend. Scott Simon was speaking with Michael Caine – who is quite an amazing and gifted actor and human being – and near the end of the piece, Caine related how he’d learned at a young age (19 …. that is young!) to just go out and have as much fun as you could have, every single day. This really resonated with me, because, at the time, I was also thinking about my next blog entry. I’d wanted to talk a little about one of my favorite books – Illusions – by Richard Bach (the Jonathan Livingston Seagull author; I wasn’t so enamored of that book, but I love Illusions), and this interview just seemed a perfect – and cosmic – segue into my thoughts.
But first, here’s a little excerpt from the end of the interview with Michael Caine:
SIMON: Having been an actor, and a wildly successful actor over four decades, what do you learn about life in the theater?
Mr. CAINE: I learned about life before I went into the theater, which is why I’ve been so happy. I was a soldier.
SIMON: You were in Korea. You fought in Korea.
Mr. CAINE: I was in Korea, yeah. I’ve noticed all my life I see elderly people who have been close to death in an illness and they’re absolutely cured and they say, now I know how to live my life. I’ve seen death and bang, bang, bang. That happened to me when I was 19. It was a terrible, terrifying thing. And I live my life like those people decided to do when they were old. So, since I was 19, I’ve had the most fun possible every single day, even when I had a rough life, in the nine years trying to make it, you know? It was the army which taught me about life, and the theater which taught me how good it could be.
Why is it that we have to wait until the threat of imminent death or illness forces us to re-evaluate our lives, and just go out and have fun – the most fun possible? I know I’m guilty, and often bog myself down with all the have-tos and shoulds – and there are plenty of have-tos and shoulds – but why don’t I have just have fun doing them? The human condition, I guess, and, maybe like exercise or eating or brushing our teeth, it’s just something we have to remind ourselves to do every day until it becomes a habit?
Anyway, that, for me, is the big message of Illusions that I’ve been learning and growing with since its publication in 1977. For those of you who haven’t read Illusions, it’s a short little parable, subtitled The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, about a messiah, who is also a barn-storming pilot and mechanic. It’s short. Simple. Simple language. But, for me (and Barbara, too – we’ve emailed about this book in the past), its “simple” message struck some mighty deep chords, and I find that every time I re-read it, some passage I never noticed before, will strum my soul.
Here’s a little overview from Amazon about the book: “Richard Bach takes to the air to discover the ageless truths that give our souls wings: that people don’t need airplanes to soar…that even the darkest clouds have meaning once we lift ourselves above them… and that messiahs can be found in the unlikeliest places–like hay fields, one-traffic-light midwestern towns, and most of all, deep within ourselves.”
Within the book, his fictional character and reluctant messiah of Donald Shimoda gives Bach a copy of The Messiah’s Handbook, and, golly, I really love some of the quotes from there. Like: “Argue for your limitations and sure enough they’re yours.” A raise of hands for all of us who have been guilty there! And then there’s this: “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.” I’m so blessed to have such an extended group of family members – linked by respect and joy – around the country and even part of the world (and working in the Parks certainly adds to the list of extended family members). And these: “You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however,” and “Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished; If you’re alive, it isn’t.”
At one point in the book, Bach asks Shimoda, what is the meaning of life, and the two go to ……. the movies! And it’s here that Bach embraces life’s deepest meaning: To have fun and to learn something. Yeah …. how ’bout that!? To have fun and to learn something! I might add that “service” certainly seems to be a part of life’s meaning, but it, too, can be folded into having fun and learning something. Otherwise, I think, that service can sometimes be martyrdom or even fall into the gamut of narcissism (“look how good I am!”).
But, my very favorite part of the book is at the beginning (Barbara’s, too, I think?), where The Master in the parable, in verse 26, asks the multitudes “If a man told God that he wanted most of all to help the suffering world, no matter the price to himself, and God answered and told him what he must do, should the man do as he is told?” The Many in the parable agree – they would be glad to suffer hell itself, should God ask it. Verse 30: “And what would you do,” The Master said … “if God spoke directly to your face and said, ‘I COMMAND THAT YOU BE HAPPY IN THE WORLD, AS LONG AS YOU LIVE.’ What would you do then?” The Multitude was silent, and The Master said into the silence, “In the path of our happiness shall we find the learning for which we have chosen this lifetime.”
Similarly, I recently stumbled across this quote from Alan Cohen: “It is not selfish to be happy. It is your highest purpose. Your joy is the greatest contribution you can make to life on the planet. A heart at peace with its owner blesses everyone it touches. The energy you broadcast is more important than the activities you undertake. Remember that is the spirit in which we act that nourishes or starves us.”
So, there, you’ve got permission – Go out, spread your joy, embrace your highest purpose and Have Some Fun!