A Fun Look at Routine, Vocation, and Awakening: “Stranger than Fiction”
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*Warning: There’s a scene in this movie that doesn’t go too far, as romance is concerned, but could be inappropriate for minors. Discretion is advised*
Routine, that cultural phenomenon that can take away our capacity to be amazed about things. The English Catholic author Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote a story about routine: “Homesick at Home.” It’s incredible how the simple fact of getting used to the everyday events can make us lose the joy for life. And, to top it all, we live in a culture that pushes us towards that kind of life: When one reaches the age of five, one must start going to school to study. After a determined amount of time in Middle and High School, if one wants to “have a successful life and be someone,” one must to go to college to get a degree. After that, one must find a job and follow a schedule five days a week, every week until reaching the age for retirement. And, without noticing it, life just passed by.
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In the movie Stranger than Fiction, we see Harold Crick, an extremely boring man tied to a routine: “This is a story about a man called Harold Crick (…) Harold Crick was a man of infinite numbers, endless calculations and incredibly few words (…) Every weekday for 12 years, Harold would run at a rate of nearly 57 steps per block for 6 blocks, barely catching the 8:17 (…).” And so on, goes the narrator. The movie invites us to reflect about our own routine. How do we live our everyday life? How much are we like Harold?
These are the main points to consider to discuss the movie with your friends or in class. We hope you find them helpful:
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1. Are those disruptions to our routine really so bad?
I think there’s an automatic reaction to all those things that take us out of our routine: rejection. We must not generalize, there certainly are people who enjoy those events that change their routine, but many people tend to react negatively to those unexpected things that don’t let us continue with our everyday activity. In the movie, Harold is interrupted by a voice that narrates his life, an extreme and fictitious case. In our own case, what could we consider an interruption of our routine? Someone who stops us on the street to ask us for directions, an unexpected call from someone who needs our help, etc. We must not close ourselves to these things, in fact, one must be open to helping and pay attention to those persons, just as Jesus teaches us in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
2. Recognize your routine. Then bust out of it!
Harold starts to listen to the narrator. What is she saying to him? That all his days are exactly the same. That the monotony of his days is only surpassed by the monotony of his thoughts: “When others’ minds would fantasize about their upcoming day or even try to grip onto the final moments of their dreams, Harold just counted brush strokes,” narrates Emma Thompson’s voice. It’s precisely at that moment that Harold realizes that the voice narrates his life “accurately and with a better vocabulary.” That’s how, after a session with a psychiatrist, Harold ends up consulting a Literature professor about the narrator that follows him everywhere. Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), decides to help Harold, as crazy as it might be, and at one point in the story tells him something like: “You have to live your life, because according to your narrator, you don’t have much time left.” If one thinks about it, it’s true. There’s a famous phrase that says: “live everyday as if it was the last.” What does this mean to a Christian? It means that we must live every day as if we were about to meet with God. When little Saint Dominic Savio was playing games with his classmates at school, they asked him what would he do if he knew he was about to die in the next few minutes, and he answered: “I would keep on playing games.” That’s what we have to aspire to! Be saints today and every day! Don’t let sainthood be a goal you expect to reach at the end of your life, because you don’t know when that moment will come! You can say “but I can’t be a saint, it’s very difficult.” Ok, that’s true. In order to reach sainthood, we need God, that’s why there’s never been a saint who didn’t pray and receive the sacraments as frequently as possible. Don’t leave for tomorrow what can be done today!
3. How to renew our everyday life through our own vocation
We meet another character, Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a baker who hasn’t paid all her taxes. In a brief exchange of words, Ana tells Harold the story of how she ended up becoming a baker. At the end of her story, she says: “I just figured if I was going to make the world a better place I would do it with cookies.” And, as crazy as it might sound, that’s right. Each and everyone of us is called to make the world a better place by doing the things we’re good at. Whether as a lawyer, a chef, or a school principal, each of us has a mission, a purpose in this world, and our profession tends to be linked to this purpose. Saint Josemaria Escriva, the “saint of the ordinary,” taught that one can become a saint in the activities of everyday life.
Begin today! It’s always a good moment.
4. The dreams we can pursue
Another typical aspect of our culture is not doing things for fear of what others might think, or simply because of lack of time. Harold wanted to play the guitar, and never thought about the possibility of doing it until the narrator made him realize how empty his life was. We, the characters of real life, don’t have that narrator that will make us realize all the things we’re not doing because of our routine. Look into your life and ask yourself: What’s that thing I always wanted to do but haven’t because of lack of time? And… find the time to do it! Today is the day, there’s no time like the present.
This post was translated into English by Lorena E. Tabares. You can find the original here.