I think I am Hollywood’s dream audience member – I am profoundly moved by stories that I see played out on the big screen, particularly if I know they are true. While my filmmaker- wannabe husband is analyzing the lighting and camera angles, I am completely caught up in the story – identifying with characters, feeling their pain, and cheering them on.
Because of this tendency to get caught up in their onscreen lives, I have to choose very carefully what I watch. Violent or creepy movies can leave me feeling physically ill and on edge for days. This restricts me mostly to dramas and feel-good movies, but I’m okay with that. Most of us could use a few more “happy endings” in life, don’t you think?
But, when I think a movie will have a happy ending and it doesn’t, it leaves an unsettled place in my soul. That is what happened Saturday night when we watched The Soloist.
The movie, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx, tells the story of an unlikely friendship between Steve Lopez, an LA Times reporter, and Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless man who turns out to be a Juilliard dropout. At first, Lopez investigates Ayers’ past because he sees a great story, but he finds himself drawn to the schizophrenic man and desperately tries to help Ayers break out of his personal prison created by his mental illness. Over time, Lopez must accept that his hopes for Ayers do not match Ayers’ own wishes, though their friendship does change both of their lives for the better.
I wanted what Lopez wanted for Ayers – for him to seek professional help, regain a “normal” life, and share his incredible musical talents with a wide and appreciative audience. He was created to play beautiful music, but very few people will ever hear it. It was just too hard for him to fight the voices inside his head. He chose to stay where he was comfortable, playing his music for his own enjoyment. In fact, during the filming of the movie, the real Nathaniel Ayers was invited onto the set, but he couldn’t make himself go in. So he went outside across the street and played the cello by himself while they filmed, truly earning himself the title of “The Soloist”.
That’s not the way it was supposed to be. We were created to be in community with others, sharing our gifts and talents in a way that benefits ourselves and everyone else. But sometimes, we choose to fly solo. And the rest of the world suffers loss.
Though most of us are not burdened with the weight of a mental illness, we all have voices inside our heads that guide our actions. We have a choice every day of which voices we are going to listen to, and the choices we make impact our life and the lives of those around us. We can choose to take the sometimes frightening steps into the unknown, where we will grow and have a greater influence in the world, or we can choose the safe path, the comfortable way that keeps us right where we have always been.
It tears at my heart when I see people choose to “play it safe” because they AREN’T playing it safe. They are risking missing out on the glorious life God had planned for them. He is waiting for them to take the first step. That step looks different for everyone. Maybe it is taking a class, learning a new skill, hiring a coach, or making some type of life change. It probably means relying on someone else’s talents and skills to help you get where you need to go. If you’re flying solo, you’ll never find the support you need to make that change. And you’ll miss out on the glorious growth that is LIFE.