I spent the day in my office today bagging and boarding comic books and re-sorting them and, per usual, I selected a batch of movie favorites to “keep me company” while I labored away. Most of them I half-watched as I focused some of my attention on the task at hand but, when the final movie started, it captured my full attention, as it always does, and I stopped what I was doing to watch it, without interruption, beginning to end.
It was “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”
“Opus” is one of my all time favorite movies because it is one of those movies that always has a profound effect on me. It moves me, emotionally, and causes me to reflect on my life, inspiring and depressing me at the same time.
The general plot, for those who don’t know, is the story of a musician, Glenn Holland (played by Richard Dreyfus) who makes the difficult decision to put his pursuit of becoming a famous composer and musician on hold as he decides to teach highschool music in order to survive, financially. He has always thought of teaching as something to “fall back on” and intends to only do the job temporarily while he composes on the side. A quote from the film lends itself well to the theme of the movie: life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
As the movie progresses, Mr. Holland finds himself remaining at the school year after year, struggling to help children discover his passion for music while raising a son who, ironically, is born deaf, unable to hear the very thing that motivates and inspires Glenn. Glenn grows to love his career and his students, learns to bond with his son through music despite the obstacles, and ultimately settles into his life as a teacher until, once again, life throws him a curve ball as the music program is dissolved and he is laid off due to budget cuts. The job he once despised and was dragged into “kicking and screaming” he must now walk away from, with great sadness and anger.
In the final scene of the movie, after it has been revealed that Mr. Holland feels unappreciated, like his whole life has been a waste, not accomplishing what he had originally set out to do and now not being allowed to continue doing what he has grown to love, he is surprised to learn that he has, in fact done far more than he had ever hoped to and has had an impact in ways he never realized. The final scene is beautiful and inspiring, and I always get choked up. I won’t ruin it here for you in case any of you have not seen the movie and decide to after reading this.
Seeing this movie always causes me reflect on all of the dreams I had, things I’d hoped to accomplish and do, and the person I wanted to be “when I grew up.” After watching it again, I once again took inventory of my life and what little I have accomplished and probably ever will. I once dreamed of being someone important and doing something amazing, having an impact on my community, if not the world, creating things that people would want to own and gaze upon or read long after I was gone. I thought I would teach or motivate, inspire or entertain, start a movement or make the world a better place. Not out of conceit or arrogance that I could, just out of the belief that I both wanted and needed to.
But then life happened and everything I wanted to do and be fell by the wayside. Money, health, opportunity, education, drive…so many things that might have helped me achieve something greater failed me, and I suddenly became a shadow of Mr. Holland, taking a job that would help me pay the bills and care for my health needs while I continued to try to hold onto things that mattered to me: fighting for equality, playing my trombone, creating art, joining choruses and community theaters, exploring opportunities for education and training. I even tried to learn new things; cooking, sewing, crocheting, knitting. I started blogging, tried to create a local gay social group (doing “gay invasions”) and even tried to at least become the “host extraordinaire” in my own social circle. None of these things would change the world, but they were all things I enjoyed and wanted to do or learn or become better at, in the hopes that one or some or all of them would somehow become a stepping stone to bigger and better things or would make me indispensable or special in some way, even to a small group of people. I wanted to matter. I wanted my life to matter. But either I did not have the drive or the tools to do more with my life and so I never became more than what I am today.
I am now 40 and my dreams and goals and desires have completely changed. Suddenly the things I want and look forward to are quiet nights at home with my husband, a clean house, our bills paid off, as long a stretch as possible without health issues or hospital visits and maybe a weekend away now and then as time and money allows. I look forward to reading my comic books, eating a decent meal, seeing my friends and bowling once a week. And, I won’t lie, an occasional Cosmo or glass of wine. I find myself becoming more of a homebody, wanting to shut out more and more of the world and cocoon myself in this small little home I have managed to help build with the man I married and my desire to be a greater part of the world diminishes each day. I realize more, each day, how little impact I have had or will have on the world, the community or on anyone. I have probably made more enemies than friends and have never done a single thing of significance that anyone can or will remember. I no longer have the fire in my belly for becoming or doing anything worthy of attention or recognition.
I have known a handful of “Glenn Hollands” in my life; people who have changed my life for the better, whether they knew it or not. I have always tried to let people know that who they are or what they did mattered to me, when I could. It would be nice to know, before I go, that one person was changed for the better because I lived. One life or attitude was improved because of something I said or did. I’d like to know I, too, had an “Opus” of my life’s work and accomplishments. But that is unlikely.
I know we are not all meant to be or do great things. I know our lives can and should have intrinsic value and not require external evidence that we matter and I don’t believe my life was wasted merely because neither I, nor the life I lead, was remarkable in any way. Never the less, in my fantasies, I like to imagine that, at the end of my time, when I prepare to shuffle off to my final days and resting place, just waiting for my time here to end, I will be confronted with a surprise revelation that my life had greater meeting or that something I said or did had some great effect on the people or world around me. I like to imagine that someone’s life will have been better because of my influence or that somehow I had managed to do something great without knowing it. But I know that isn’t true and that the only ones who will note my parting or miss me at all will be whatever handful of people I’ve managed to old onto in my life until that point. The best I can hope for is that I had very little negative impact on anyone’s life.
So I will continue on with the remainder of my life, doing the things I need to do, day in and day out, maybe doing a good deed here and there or offering a helping hand, some solace, or a hug as needed to the people I come in contact with. I will not be a Mr. Holland, and I am OK with that. But maybe I can still make a small difference, even if only to one person, one moment in time, in a small way. And I guess that will just have to be enough.