There are spoilers ahead for Soul if you haven’t seen the movie yet!
Near the end of Soul, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) gets the gig he’s been seeking for most of his life. He fights the afterlife to get back to playing piano for Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). After the show, Joe feels empty – wondering if that’s it. Joe had finally achieved that one thing, and it didn’t fill him with the euphoria he hoped. Dorothea tells him a story about two young fish, young and old.
“I heard this story about a fish. He swims up to an older fish and says: “I’m trying to find this thing they call the ocean.” “The ocean?” the older fish says, “that’s what you’re in right now.” “This,” says the young fish, “this is water. What I want is the ocean!”
2020 has been a year that has shaken our normal like a category five hurricane. This holiday season has been harder on people in particular. The virus discourages things like gathering, hugs, and kisses. We’re used to the hustle and bustle of the world: busy streets, subways, filled planners, and goal sheets. Long hours and the drive to succeed – then succeed some more. Sometimes, at the sacrifice of time with our loved ones and solitude with ourselves. We always think that we’ll only start living if we get that big break.
We’ll have enough to have time to be present. I can’t blame anybody for that line of thinking. Society demands so much from us and almost gives us crumbs back. However, we realize that time is only a currency that depreciates when it’s too late. When Joe speaks to his mother in her shop, he tells her that not reaching “the goal” makes him afraid that his life wouldn’t have amounted to anything without it. Their relationship is vital because it represents the conflict between stability and lofty goals. It’s a love-hate relationship that most of us walk with every day.
Hence, as this interaction plays out in the story, it makes you question how we view our self-worth. Has life conditioned us to be these hard, noised achieving machines instead of people who find serenity in just being? Are we that less important because our passions may be walking or stargazing? Are our lives less impactful because we aren’t on a big stage, or do we feel our acts need a grandiose platform to feel relevant? I couldn’t help to think about how many times I was the young fish? I was always seeking the next goal and not taking a second to appreciate what I had just achieved. Or the beautiful moments in between. The connections to people or just the view. Sometimes the reward is the view. It’s not a trophy or a plaque. Sometimes it’s having a second to be present in the current moment.
Joe was so hyper-focused that he had lost sight of so much beauty in front of him. He could have had potential interactions that weren’t based just on music. It’s not lost on me that the epiphany scene happens when he’s sitting in silence in front of his piano. Joe looks at the leaf 22 picked up and recalls all the small moments in his life that brought him joy. While Joe’s father’s appearances pop up sparingly throughout the film, you see their relationship has a conduit for his love of jazz. In that way, playing music brings him closer to keeping his memory alive. Often, we focus on the passion itself and not the reason the desire came to be.
Legacy – that word holds weight, but don’t forget that the building blocks to make one lives in what we do right now. Don’t have a search party for the future when you can find yourself in all the minutes right before you. To be curious, attentive, and present every day is a life worth living. We all want to climb our mountains, and that’s ok. Arrows need a target—a focus. However, look around instead of immediately scaling down to fixate on your next climb. Take in the scenery. The trees, the sunset or sunrise, and the horizon have been begging you to.
Photo Credit: Disney/Pixar