Today I turn 50.
For years, if you asked how I’d be spending this birthday, the answer was simple: you’d find me in Greece.
Ever since I saw the British movie Shirley Valentine (watch the trailer here) I’ve been obsessed with vacationing in Greece, obsessed with having a vacation like hers. I would swim in the deep blue water of the Mediterranean Sea, have an affair with a handsome Greek (brother’s boat optional) and experience something so profound my eyes would open as if for the first time. I’d be willing to change my whole life to never go back to the “before” picture.
Yeah, I know, it’s a lot of pressure to put on one fortnight vacation.
The movie was released in 1989. I saw it a few years later. I loved it so much I immediately bought the VHS. More recently, the worn VHS was replaced with a DVD. I’ve watched it 20 times or more. Three times in the last year alone.
The irony isn’t lost on me that, on the surface, Shirley and I couldn’t be more different. She is married with grown children; I’ve never had either. Shirley is a barely-made-it-through-high-school housewife; I am a longtime executive-level professional with a master’s degree. She is British; I’m American. She is 42; the first time I watched the movie I was 28 (though the last time I watched it I was 49). Shirley talks to walls; I try not to.
So why does this movie speak to me so profoundly? And why has it spoken to me to for all these years? Why do I watch it again and again?
Why indeed! What we have in common–besides an appreciation for a glass of wine at the end of the day–is we both did exactly what was expected and never questioned it. We both have known there is more, just not how to get it. Shirley says it best:
I have allowed myself to lead this little life, when inside me there was so much more. And it’s all gone unused. And now it never will be. Why do we get all this life if we don’t ever use it? Why do we get all these feelings and dreams and hope if we don’t ever use them? That’s where Shirley Valentine disappeared to. She got lost in all this unused life.
Tears spring to my eyes every time I get to that part in the movie. Every time! At 28, it made me feel incredibly lonely because I had the same feelings as a middle aged woman. While I’ve had a fulfilling career, great friends, I am embarrassed and sickened to admit those feelings remain all these years later. It’s been 20 years since I first watched Shirley Valentine. It spoke to me then and it speaks to me now.
The difference is now I’m ready to do something about it.
Shirley’s realization about her life comes during the two-week holiday she takes to Greece with her friend (mate, in British speak). And when it’s time to return home Shirley decides she likes the person she is on holiday better than the woman she is at home. So she stays.
My realization took a little longer but the result is the same: a dramatic life change. I guess you could say I’m going on permanent holiday too.
I’ve decided to rid myself of 90% of my possessions, including my house, move into a couple hundred square feet on wheels and hit the road to see my country, maybe my continent. It may not hold all the answers, but it’s a start. I’m going on a search for my unused life.
At the end of the movie, Shirley’s husband arrives in Greece with a mission of fetching his wife back to her old life. The audience, of course, knows she isn’t going anywhere. As he walks toward her burdened with his suitcase, she sits at a table on the edge of the sea at sunset with wine for two. She turns to the camera:
Oh, I hope he stays for a while. He needs a holiday. He needs to feel the sun on his skin and to be in water that’s as deep as forever.
It’s a perfect movie moment. And, yes, tears spring to my eyes here too.
If my life were a movie, I’d turn to the camera a say: Look out Shirley Valentine, my hero, Debbie LaFleiche is downsizing her home to supersize her life. I am on a quest for a life filled with adventure, creativity, fun, freedom and water as deep as forever.
Come along for the ride. Join the journey!
Join me next Monday as Robert Frost helps me answer the question: why now?