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Walter Mitty and the Dream in Us All

May 21, 2014

walter mitty

Oh the power of dreams.

Last weekend Michelle and I watched Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013).  I didn’t love the film, but this isn’t a review.  It was a reasonable piece of entertainment for a Saturday night.

Here’s what you need to know:

Walter Mitty is a dreamer.  Even in the middle of actual human interactions, he finds himself drifting off into his own elaborate fantasies.  In reality, he’s a mostly normal guy whose chief deficiency, it would seem, is that he hasn’t really lived.  He gets up. He goes to work. He comes home.  He balances his check book. He looks at his woefully deficient eHarmony profile.  This is about all there is to Walter Mitty.

There is an inciting incident in Walter’s life,  one that calls him out of his stupor and forces him to make a decision to begin living (the globe-trotting, jumping out of helicopter, and out-running a volcano eruption kind of living).  It’s dramatic, silly, beautiful and it speaks to something I think we all feel at some point or another.

We’re all looking for an invitation to wake up and start living.  We all want our lives to mean something more. No one wants to be ordinary.

The stuff of childhood dreams is never a 9:00a.m. to 5:00p.m. workday that breaks up hour-long commutes.  As children, we look at the world with boundless ambition and little understanding of the challenges that stand between us and our ambitions.  Some call this naiveté, others call it purity.

The true decisions of life are the ones that determine direction and trajectory.  They are the decisions that weigh risk and reward, opportunity and cost.  We are programmed to dream big, we are conditioned to decide small.

We embrace “good enough” as, well, good enough.  Extraordinary, after all, isn’t easy and “good enough” is sufficient to lay one’s head down at night with a mild feeling of satisfaction.

At some point, we stop creating our own story and start living the ordinary.  We distract ourselves by immersing ourselves in other people’s stories.  We watch television and movies, read books and fantasize about the extraordinary stories of others, while our own stories become more and more ordinary.  Soon, we’re convinced that the extraordinary only exists in the pages of literature and the luster of the screen.

As a Catholic, I think there is a tendency to do this with the Saints.  We read their biographies, marvel at their faith and think about how great it would be to be so holy.  Unfortunately, we often stop at the wishing and dreaming.

What it would take for you to be a saint?  Is it simply faith in Jesus relegated to Sunday mornings?

When I was in Rome a few years ago, I was struck for the first time to pray for sainthood for myself and for my family.  Many evenings, as we gather around the living room for evening prayers with the kids, I pray that prayer again.  But I’m mindful that asking for sainthood in prayer and dreaming of the kind of holiness enjoyed by the saints isn’t enough.  The prayer and the dreams are, in and of themselves, a challenge to myself and to our family.  It’s a reminder that sainthood is cultivated in daily decisions for Christ.  It’s choosing the harder way that costs me something of myself.  It’s asking myself whether what I read or watch leads me closer to Christ.

It’s a reminder to choose to live in an eternal kind of way.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 21, 2014 11:53 am

    I like this reflection. My dad was a big fan of the original play, which I believe he saw in 1964 in New York. I had never seen it, but had always kept it on my list of things to see or read. When I saw the movie a few months ago, I could see why he probably liked it, though not for the reasons I had often thought. My dad was a dreamer, even a day dreamer. I thought the story would affirm that side of him. Instead, I think he saw the play as a real challenge to become engaged in life and to reach for the stars, which he did. I like your application of the story of Walter Mitty to sanctity, becoming saints. Indeed, for us Catholics, it is a wonderful application. Thanks for the reflection. It feeds my own journey here in Mexico.
    Father Paul Walsh, CSB

    • Chris permalink*
      May 21, 2014 12:15 pm

      Thank you Father! I’m glad you enjoyed it. May your journey in Mexico rekindle the flames of your own journey towards heaven.

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