This week I watched Carl Reiner’s new documentary, If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast. I could write an entire blog entry about this film and the many wonderful pieces of advice it offered—all by people in their 90s—but one idea has stayed with me pretty much non-stop since I watched it. From the very beginning of the film, those interviewed talked about the power of collaboration in keeping them healthy, strong, and engaged.
When I think of collaboration, I picture two people working on a project together—maybe one hanging something while the other holds the ladder. But when I consider my own life, I realize there is much more teamwork than meets the eye. And this is true despite the fact that my initial reaction to offers of help is almost always, “No thanks, I’m fine.” Regardless of this, every good part of my life is the result of the collaborative efforts of many, many people.
As I reflect on the value of what people contribute to us, it seems our lives are like well-produced films. No matter how talented we might be, how bright, accomplished, wealthy, or successful, it takes an entire team to make it all work. At our jobs, for example, we might feel as if we’re great communicators, but communication skills are nothing without both sides doing their best work. The behind-the-scenes machinations of my friends and family cannot go unrecognized in any assessment I might make of my own achievements. Without Jodi’s optimistic support, Mary’s practical advice, Kim’s ever-present humor, Dianne's wise perspective, and the love and encouragement from so many other people, my life would be flat and non-descript. The contributions that others make in my progress as a human are solid and tangible—they are all true collaborators in my journey from here to there.
I’m also thinking about this right now because our 18-year-old friend Isabelle just graduated from high school. Most of us have known Mary’s older daughter since she arrived here from India when she was six months old. We have each participated in her life on a regular basis, including helping with homework, playing 8,000 games of “Apples to Apples,” offering our advice—even when this caused her to roll her eyes dramatically, and loving her actively, each in our own way. Since I don’t have children of my own, it has allowed me to see the collaborative nature of parenthood, as well.
Even if we don’t engage with a kid in a consistent practice, if we help a mom or a dad process the changes in their children’s lives, if we support them when they want to strangle their offspring, if we simply listen to what it’s like to be the parent of that particular kid, we are collaborators. So far, knock on wood, it has been fun and relatively easy to be part of the team that moved Isabelle to this big milestone in her life, and it would be lovely if it stayed that way. But as dedicated members of her village, we are here through thick and thin, and I love it that she knows that on some level.
Every good part of my life is the result of the collaborative efforts of many, many people.
I hope the same for the rest of us—that we realize the love and power of the collaborators in our own lives. My wish is not that we will spend all of our energy in gratitude for the folks in our lives—something we probably already do—but that we understand what a combined effort it takes to live authentically and consciously. We keep each other honest, we push each other to do more (and less), we hold each other when a fall is imminent and we let go when a leap is required. Without each other we are who we are, but we’re not that special. With each other, we are millionaires, the recipients of the wisdom and power of the ages. I try to remind myself of this when someone reaches out her hand and my initial reaction is to insist on my own independence. I do bring my own strength to the story of my life, but that is just the basic plot. The true richness comes from cast of supporting characters.