If you’re not in charge of your life, then who is?

(Originally published March 21, 2011)

I’ve seen three movies during the past few days, and they all looked at how people (or in one case, a lizard) dealt with destiny. In two cases, the lead characters shook off adversity and overcame personal doubt to achieve greatness. In the third, the characters’ lives were prescribed for them, and they did little more than accept their fate.

One movie, of course, was Rango, which Roger Ebert described as “some kind of miracle.” It’s far more than a kids’ movie. It tells the tale of a Walter-Mittyesque lizard who lives a rich fantasy life inside the terrarium in which he’s kept. Then one day, life intervenes, and he finds himself thrown into the desert and a town called Dirt, whose inhabitants include all manner of reptiles, amphibians and other assorted creatures. After adopting the moniker Rango, the lizard spins yarns of derring-do and inadvertently kills one of the town’s nemeses, a huge hawk. He becomes sheriff and starts to believe the legend that builds up around him, until übervillain Rattlesnake Jake humiliates him. Rango slinks off into the desert, where he has a religious experience, beats down his demons and returns to Dirt humbler and far more heroic.

The second movie was Nowhere Boy, which examines John Lennon’s early life. By all reckoning, Lennon was headed nowhere. He barely knew his father, had an unstable mother and essentially was raised by his Aunt Mimi. He blew off his homework, ticked off his teachers and spent more time with alcohol than a teenager should. But of course, there was the music. Rock ‘n’ roll possessed him. Early on in the movie, in a light-hearted scene, he asks his mother why God couldn’t have made him Elvis, to which she replies: “Because he was saving you for John Lennon.” Obviously, she was right, but no one knew that at the time. It took John’s passion, drive, dedication (and a fortuitous partnership with Paul McCartney) to make John Lennon what he became. He made no excuses about how his past limited him. He simply pushed forward in pursuit of his dream.

The third movie? Never Let Me Go, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. I wanted to see it because my book club chose the book for our April meeting, and I wanted to see how well it migrated over to film. As is usually the case, the book is more nuanced and complete. I’m not sure you’d fully understand the movie without having read the book. The story takes place in the late 20th century. It imagines a world in which clones are created solely for the purpose of providing body parts for humans. Some of the clones are raised at Hailsham, a relatively idyllic setting in which they get to explore art, literature, music, science and math before fulfilling their destiny as donors. Two female clones and a male become involved in a kind of love triangle. One of the females “completes,” which is the euphemism for dying after one too many donations. The other two try to defer their duty as donors so they can enjoy their time together. It had been rumored that deferrals might be possible for some clones, but they learn that the rumor is untrue. They then accept both their disappointment and their fate and head for the operating table.

One continuing argument over the book and movie concerns why the clones don’t do more to fight back. The sad truth is that, of the nearly 7 billion people on earth, most, like the clones, simply fall in line with what they’ve been told is their fate. I’m not Pollyannaish about this. I understand that for billions of people – those in countries like Bangladesh and Darfur – opportunities are limited, and it’s difficult to have a vision beyond day-to-day survival.

But if you’re reading this, odds are good that you can be more than you are today. I’m not saying you can achieve everything John Lennon achieved, and I’m not saying you’ll necessarily achieve your most grandiose dream. But if you work toward that dream, you will be more than you are today. So what’s stopping you? If something is, have a heart-to-heart talk with that person looking back at you in the mirror. Have that Rango-like religious experience (or something deeper), and then go and do. If you don’t do it for yourself, then who will? If you’re not in charge of your life, then who is?

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