It's funny how in the middle of a song, book or movie, that one memorable line pops from the page or screen and makes you stop and think. On a cold and wet Sunday afternoon, an old school friend and I found ourselves in our nearest movie theatre. I don't remember what movie we had planned to see, but like all best laid plans, we were too late for our chosen one and found ourselves seated in another screen room with the "Dead Poet's Society" opening credits rolling.
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Initially, the thought of watching young, naive boys in a New England preparatory school in the 50's was not exactly riveting fare for this mid-twenties 'sophisticate', but with a lap full of popcorn and a decent lemonade in my hand, I can easily be persuaded otherwise! I also loved Robin Williams and to this day, will happily watch anything this man cares to act in.
Robin Williams plays a wonderful, charismatic English teacher named John Keating with a passion for poetry. He has vibrancy for life, so lacking in the other starchy and staid teachers at Hellton School. His unorthodox methods of teaching from ripping out the meaningless preface of "Understanding Poetry" to standing on his desk to illustrate how the world can look differently, does not endear him to the administrative body at the school. Undeterred, Williams attempts to instill in his boys a desire to live their lives to the fullest and on that first day at school, drags his boys out of the classroom into the hallway and shows them photos of past scholars who are "now fertilizing daffodils". To emphasize the point, he brings them closer to the photos and whispers in their ears:
"Carpe Diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary".
Now before you sigh heavily, I know "Carpe Diem" is now a heavily quoted cliche, but back in that movie theatre around Christmas '89, my friend and I turned to stare at each other in shock and amazement and said in unison; "Carpe Diem?!" We had spent five years together at a sprawling comprehensive school in London (high school for the uninformed) and worn navy blue blazers with this motto under our school emblem - we had never known (nor cared it seem) what "Carpe Diem" had meant. Wise crackers among us, had thought it was "Carp Day" (our school was close by a fishing lake) or "Cr@p Day" as it was fondly called, but hey, at least we had known "Diem" meant "day"!
Carpe Diem - Seize the Day! It all began to make sense and the film continued to open my eyes to that earlier adolescent ignorance. Seizing opportunities, reaching out for the unknown, opening up oneself to new experiences - pity Robin Williams hadn't been teaching at my school way back when!
"Dead Poets Society" refers to a secret society that Williams himself had founded when he too had attended Hellton School. His students, fascinated with their bohemian English professor, decide to resurrect the society and reform the group. Williams urges his students to "suck out all the marrow of life". Gathering deep into the woods near the school, the secretive meetings provide the boys with a creative outlet, where they can express themselves, speak of passion and yes, read poetry:
I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life... to put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Henry David Thoreau
As I sat watching the movie, "seize the day" was becoming a 'mantra' in my head. I was in a transitional period in my life where indecision was becoming a daily battle in my life. I was in a demanding job I detested. I had returned home to my parents after a disastrous long-term relationship had founded on the rocks. I was clinging to the old and wary of the new. I was basically in an emotional 'no-man's land'. It sounds trite, but the movie "Dead Poets Society" and that line: "Carpe Diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary" made me re-evaluate where my life was heading. My grandmother had died earlier that year and I missed her wisdom terribly. Here's another one-liner for you: "you have no tomorrow - only TODAY" - Grandma Taylor! In other words, "Seize the Day". I don't think anyone, on their death bed, regrets the things they have done, rather the things they failed to try. Change is scary, but meek acceptance of a life less ordinary, is a greater thing to fear than change itself.
Well, the movie continued. It's emotion escalating to a tragic conclusion when one of the characters, unable to live his dream, commits suicide. Sadly, a scapegoat must be found and Keating is dismissed from his position. The boys fearing expulsion, sign a paper stating that the English professor had encouraged the sad and disillusioned boy to pursue his love of acting in direct rebellion against his parents. It's a sad ending but uplifting to know that William's students have embraced the wise words of their professor and show defiance by standing on their desks as he leaves the school.
I left the movie theatre totally entranced. I felt inspired and moved. My friend, still smiling at the revelation that finally we had translated the weird Latin motto "Carpe Diem" once and for all, returned to her life as normal. Me, on the other hand, resigned from my prestige job the following week. I decided I wanted to actually LIVE a life and to paraphrase Thoreau's words; I wanted to "live deliberately" and not when it came to the end of my life, realize I had been "dead" for years. A man, I had recently met, invited me to leave London and move to an idyllic cottage by the sea in the wilds of Scotland and onto a path in life, which ultimately led me where I am today, sitting on another cold and wet day, writing for Epinions! More importantly, this willingness to embrace the unknown and accept change continues even today as my husband and I face another monumental change in our life - moving from a city we love and from friends we know due to a reluctantly accepted (and forced) job relocation. We will survive and we will grow from accepting our fate.
Just one day, just one line, just one life - pretty amazing how we can change our lives in a moment! We can be extraordinary if we so desire, we can live our lives to the fullest and we can "seize the day".
When the delightful Caleo invited me to 'The Great One Liner Write Off' hosted by her good self and Elvisdo, I thought how wonderful, there are simply hundreds of great one liners that have moved me, inspired me, made me laugh.... And then I came to write my review and I could not think of a single one! However, not to be deterred, I dug deep into the recesses of my brain and this was my humble contribution. I strongly suggest you check out my fellow write-off colleagues who will delight and inspire you.
Bijou, Bluehawq, Caleo, dandj, Debbie26, Dlamarrx, Elvisdo, Eplovejoy, itztru, Jkkelley, KateTPZ, KingJFS, Kristinafh, kurt_messick, ladydagney1, Lagavulin, Lessaleigh, Levda, machkick, mellkinwa, Nicholmere, NFP, nobody_knows, porcelina22, Repulsemonkey, Sloucho, smithswoodside, Solid_Snake, telefrog, Zeira
These fine writers can be found collectively at:
Thank you for reading.
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