On a plane over the Atlantic Ocean, I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the modern film adaptation of a Depression-era short story about an unremarkable everyman stricken by sporadic daydreams of heroism. In the story, mundane tasks inspire epic flights of fancy in the mind of the protagonist, who appears zoned out to the rest of the world. The film, however, takes a mild-mannered photo developer for Life magazine out of his fantasies and sends him on a dizzying adventure to Greenland, Iceland, and Afghanistan. Actually, the film takes us along for the ride.
To be certain, seeing Walter Mitty, mousy and unsure, morph into a ruggedly handsome philosopher-hero is to witness Hollywood cliché. And it’s easy to dismiss as corny the abridged Life magazine mantra displayed throughout the film (see image above). But on that airplane, I drank in every panoramic mountain vista, swam in every lush measure of the soundtrack, and swallowed whole each word of that mantra, because I am a true believer. I know first-hand the power of travel, of conquering fear, of exploring the unknown, of accomplishing the extraordinary. But more, I’ve been blessed to interact with, to be drawn closer to other people who also know this power intimately. Extraordinary people who give little girls the world in the form of a small, blue, 32-page book with an eagle on the front. People who coach men on becoming better men, who kayak down the coast of Texas in search of solace and solitude, who supply menstrual pads to school-aged girls in developing countries, who move to New York then Buenos Aires then Boston when the mood strikes, or whose hobby is slowly but steadily becoming a profession. People raising their biracial daughters or autistic sons as single mothers in foreign countries or foreign cultures, who unexpectedly fall in love with a certain city and then make that place home, who connect compatriots worldwide, who capture the essence of life for posterity. People who do oh so many more extraordinary, epic things.
The examples are all around us; it’s really no secret at all. An epic life, an extraordinary life isn’t just for the movies. And it isn’t just for people who throw off the yoke of conventionality to go live in Bali and trade stocks over the Internet. It’s about recognizing epic moments that already happen in your life – running on the beach, hugging a loved one, laughing with friends – and embracing them, then devising a way to maximize the frequency and duration of epic-ness in your life. It’s not always easy, and right now, it may only be five minutes a week. But in a few weeks, months, years, extraordinary could be your new ordinary. Walter Mitty reminded me that, despite my own fears, inadequacies, conflicts, or difficulties, extraordinary is already my ordinary. I plan on keeping it that way.
So, who’s down for a trip to Greenland?