By JENNY PRUITT CLEVELAND
I often wonder about my grandparents, or others’ grandparents. Did they realize, when they started the car engine and put it into drive that very last time, that it would in fact be the last time? Did they realize the last time they broke into a run that it would be their last? Or touching their own toes, putting on their mascara, going on a road trip, being intimate with their partners, boarding a plane, holding a baby.
In the 1996 movie Jack, Robin Williams plays a boy whose cells develop at four times the normal rate. He is born a normal, healthy baby at 10 weeks, he starts fifth grade with a 40-year-old body, and he graduates high school with the appearance of a 72-year-old.
Jack wants to be ordinary. But as his teacher tells him, his life, like the shooting star, is “wonderful. It passes quickly, but while it’s here it just lights up the whole sky – it’s the most beautiful thing you’d ever want to see. So beautiful that the other stars stop and watch.”
At his graduation ceremony, knowing his life is almost over, he gives this advice to his fellow graduates: “Please don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky, when the stars are strung across the velvety night, and when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day, make a wish. Think of me. Make your life spectacular. I know I did.”
Jack’s best friend Louis sums up Jack’s joie de vivre in an essay he reads before his fifth grade class:
“I want to be just like my best friend when I grow up. He’s only ten but he looks much older. He’s like the perfect grown-up because on the inside, he’s still just a kid. He’s not afraid to learn things or try things, or to meet new people the way most grown-ups are. It’s like he’s looking at everything for the first time – because he is. And most grown-ups aren’t like that. Most grown-ups just wanna go to work and make money and show off for the neighbors. And more than anything, he knows how to be a great friend, more than most people that look like adults. So I might not know what I wanna be when I grow up, and right now I really don’t care. But I do know who I wanna be like. I wanna be like the giant. The big guy. My best friend. Jack.”
My mom told me last week, when we were midway up a hike to a beautiful vista in Aspen, Colorado, “Grab whatever bit of happiness comes your way and hold onto it, Jenny. Don’t let anything hold you back. Do everything, anything, when you get the chance.”
She’s still taking what she calls her “poison pills” (having fought breast cancer the last year), and they make her feel pretty zapped. But she’s not letting it hold her back. She’s doing everything, anything, she can when she gets the chance.
The two of us enjoyed the vista as long as we could, breathing deeply, seeing it as if for the first time, or maybe the last. We sang our own war songs and stomped out our own rain dances. We lit up the whole dusky sky. It passed quickly, but it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. So beautiful I’m sure the other stars stopped and watched.
Jenny Pruitt Cleveland is a Content Creator in Nashville, Tenn. She swims, bikes, and runs a lot. In former lives she’s been a middle school teacher, magazine reporter and editor, cycling tour guide, and underwater photographer.