The Story of Our Lives

July 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

Three times this year I’ve attempted to watch a collection of short films that have suddenly turned dark, gruesome or just extremely uncomfortable. I suppose the brevity of the short film allows directors to pack in more violence than what feature-length film-goers could take in, but it’s still not what I want to see.

To make up for my disappointment, I turned to one of my favorite animated short films, The Danish Poet, posted below in two 7 min. increments (these have Spanish subtitles – you can practice your skills while you watch. Thanks, youtube, for all the culture you offer.):

It’s a (mostly) delightful story of how one came to be and all that could have gone a different way, all the major and minor happenings that end up changing not just your life, but the lives of those around you and generations to come. The poet Jacqueline Berger explores a similar theme in her poem below.

Why I’m Here

Because my mother was on a date
with a man in the band, and my father,
thinking she was alone, asked her to dance.
And because, years earlier, my father
dug a foxhole but his buddy
sick with the flu, asked him for it, so he dug
another for himself. In the night
the first hole was shelled.
I’m here because my mother was twenty-seven
and in the ’50s that was old to still be single.
And because my father wouldn’t work on weapons,
though he was an atomic engineer.
My mother, having gone to Berkeley, liked that.
My father liked that she didn’t eat like a bird
when he took her to the best restaurant in L.A.
The rest of the reasons are long gone.
One decides to get dressed, go out, though she’d rather
stay home, but no, melancholy must be battled through,
so the skirt, the cinched belt, the shoes, and a life is changed.
I’m here because Jews were hated
so my grandparents left their villages,
came to America, married one who could cook,
one whose brother had a business,
married longing and disappointment
and secured in this way the future.

It’s good to treasure the gift, but good
to see that it wasn’t really meant for you.
The feeling that it couldn’t have been otherwise
is just a feeling. My family
around the patio table in July.
I’ve taken over the barbequing
that used to be my father’s job, ask him
how many coals, though I know how many.
We’ve been gathering here for years,
so I believe we will go on forever.
It’s right to praise the random,
the tiny god of probability that brought us here,
to praise not meaning, but feeling, the still-warm
sky at dusk, the light that lingers and the night
that when it comes is gentle.

These stories–both on a personal level and on a national/ethnic level–are amazing, looking back at all the specific and intricate movements that brings one to the present. It’s what draws sci-fi writers to play with multiple worlds, the world that splits off at each new decision, exploring all possible outcomes. But I like even more the idea of telling your own story through the actions and inactions of others. It complements Jacqueline’s perspective in the end: your own story isn’t really about you.


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