Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Don't You (Forget About Me)"

Sheedy in The Breakfast Club
Every year, I give a placement test to incoming freshmen at my school. One of the essay prompt choices is to address something a character says in the John Hughes film The Breakfast Club. The "head-case" character (played by Ally Sheedy) says that when you get old, "your heart dies." I ask the students what they think of this -- do they agree?

Some of the kids identify themselves, immediately, as the lower-level sort by beginning a discussion of the contributions of good eating and exercise to a long, healthy life and heart-health. (No, I am not kidding.) But others get it -- they struggle with the idea of losing one's enthusiasm for living and they say some cool things.

It's all about momentum, isn't it?

My wife and I went out to dinner the other night and the waiters and waitresses were all young men and women in their twenties. You can see a certain life in them, can't you? There's a sort of sense that where they are is just a stop along the way of an interesting trip. Because, it is, isn't it? These young people are striving. They are working on college degrees. They are in law school. They're novelists and future something-or-others. Something is around each corner for them.

There's momentum.

Let's get metaphorically literal for the sake of my poor freshmen: The heart pumps blood to the muscles when they need to get moving. If the muscles are still, the heart slows down. If we don't raise out heart rate, our heart gets weak. If our heart gets weak it dies.


Hans Holbien:
"Portrait of an Old Man""
Every once in a while, my dad will talk about a piece of music he is working on and then stop, shake his head, and say: "Funny, isn't it? At my age, I still think I'm going to be famous some day."

My dad may be saying this with a twist of bitterness, but I think he has it right. I know my heart will never "die" because I still strive -- I'm still in motion. If a dream fails, it gets replaced by another. No one buys my CD? Okay -- time to work on my book. Nobody buys my book? Time to start work on my next CD. Maybe some day, I'll touch people's hearts, which is really my overall dream. There is always a new thing to try.

I can't believe anyone's overall dream is simply to hold down a job until they can sit back and be irrelevant and generally forgotten. It seems to me that one is in danger of "heart failure" if one retires and wonders what one will do with all of one's time. What do you do with your time? You strive. You "exercise." You keep moving.

The only real goal we will reach in life is the grave. Everything else is a stop along the way. If we see a stop as the achievement of all we strove for, we're done.

It's not inevitable, this dying heart thing. Sadly, for most, it is probable, though. I wonder how many of those young waiters will find themselves terrified by the prospect of retirement some day.

Okay -- if only because it has one of the coolest drum fills of all time in it (Hey -- what can I say? Stuff like that makes my heart pump):


  1. Heey, can so relate to this piece as I hear people all the time say they can't wait till they retire, and I ask them what will they do to keep busy, and they have no idea! Do they think the boob tube is really going to keep them occupied all day? I see people every day whose hearts have "died" because they do not look outside of their own four walls and have no reason to get up except to die a little each day. Gotta keep moving, dreaming, growing, no matter what! cindy r.

    1. Hi, Cindy! great to hear from you. Yup -- you gotta be hungry -- which, for me, is easy both the literal and the metaphorical sense.