This recent ad, made by a film student and ignored by the brand it was created to promote, is so profound and moving that it’s not hard to see why it’s gone viral. It tells the tale of an aged marathon runner waiting out his final years in a care home. We see him listless and bored, and the residents around him are equally without spark. Inspired by a runner he sees from his window and the sight of his old running shoes, he laces up and attempts the first of several breakouts from his care home. Repeatedly thwarted in his attempts to reach the fresh air outside by overzealous staff, it takes the love and determination of his co-residents to allow him to finally break free!
Several numbers of people in the Youtube comments section profess to having been moved to tears on watching this, and I can count myself in that number too. I have often thought that it’s ads about old age that hit people harder than ads about young children or babies, and I wonder if it is because it touches on the part of human nature that feels loss so terribly. Loss of what we once had, loss of things past that we can never get back.
Watching this ad, for me, came at a good time. After a long, dragged out day of stressed exam-revision, I had lost some perspective on life. A friend reminded me that in fifty years, would the exam results matter? Or would my actions and my generosity be the thing that mattered most? She was right. The ad reminded me that nothing lasts forever: both the good times and the bad, and that we must appreciate what we have now. We can all take what we have for granted, forgetting- in the need to accumulate more wealth, more stuff- that we are already “rich beyond our wildest dreams” (Zoë Johnston). Of course, many people say that youth is wasted on the young, and they would be right in many cases. It’s probably never been easier to waste youth as it is in our culture today, with a million ways to distract and anesthetize and replace reality with fantasy.
Pope Francis recognized this when he spoke at World Youth Day last year in Poland and his words are so fitting that they are worth quoting at length. He said:
“But in life there is another, even more dangerous, kind of paralysis… I like to describe it as the paralysis that comes from confusing happiness with a sofa…To think that in order to be happy all we need is a good sofa. A sofa that makes us feel comfortable, calm, safe. A sofa like one of those we have nowadays with a built-in massage unit to put us to sleep. A sofa that promises us hours of comfort so we can escape to the world of video games and spend all kinds of time in front of a computer screen. A sofa that keeps us safe from any kind of pain and fear. A sofa that allows us to stay home without needing to work at, or worry about, anything. “Sofa-happiness”! That is probably the most harmful and insidious form of paralysis, since little by little, without even realizing it, we start to nod off, to grow drowsy and dull while others – perhaps more alert than we are, but not necessarily better – decide our future for us. For many people in fact, it is much easier and better to have drowsy and dull kids who confuse happiness with a sofa. For many people, that is more convenient than having young people who are alert and searching, trying to respond to God’s dream and to all the restlessness present in the human heart.
The truth, though, is something else. Dear young people, we didn’t come into this world to “vegetate”, to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark. It is very sad to pass through life without leaving a mark. But when we opt for ease and convenience, for confusing happiness with consumption, then we end up paying a high price indeed: we lose our freedom.”
Pope Francis continued with the words:
“The times we live in do not call for young “couch potatoes” but for young people with shoes, or better, boots laced. It only takes players on the first string, and it has no room for bench-warmers. Today’s world demands that you be a protagonist of history because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark. History today calls us to defend our dignity and not to let others decide our future.”
So, like the man in the ad, we must remember that our time is limited! We must make the most of our freedom to move and be active, to dance and play sports, and to avoid the temptation, as Pope Francis put it, of mistaking “sofa-happiness” for real happiness. Be alert and searching and do not give up!