In his now famous speech during the 1993 ESPY awards, Jim Valvano listed three things that if you do them every day, you will live a full life. The first necessary act is to laugh. You should laugh every day, and I have written a couple of posts, like “Mistakes” and “The Power of Humor,” on the importance of laughter in your life. The second thing you should do every day is think. Every post I write and Roll Models talk I give is designed to make you think. I have even directly discussed how crucial exercising your mind is in my articles “What Am I Doing?” and “Learning.” The third critical piece to living a full life is to have your emotions move you to tears. These can be tears of joy or sadness, but you need to be self-aware and in the moment enough to fully feel your emotions. I have danced around this idea in earlier posts, but the other day a car commercial of all things reminded me of how important this behavior can be.
I was lying in bed one afternoon last week listening to the rain outside and watching “Wife Swap” reruns, and I had almost dozed off when I heard something on the TV that pulled me out of my descent into dream land. I opened my eyes to find that it was a Kia commercial featuring Laurence Fishburn. This was really surprising, because the sound that woke me up was my favorite aria, “Nessun Dorma,” from the opera, “Turandot.” Here is the commercial in all of its splendor.
After recovering from seeing Morpheus sing like Pavarotti, I realized that in just that brief clip, that was at most 45 seconds, I had gotten goosebumps and felt my eyes water as I listened to this beautiful piece of music. This got me thinking about how important it is to recognize the beauty in the world to the point that it moves you to tears. This is not only a very cathartic and freeing experience, but it also helps you learn to appreciate all of the beautiful things in the world around you. The fact that I was reminded of this important fact of life by my favorite aria is fitting too, since the first time I experienced finding so much beauty in something that it moved me this way was at an opera many years ago.
My entire childhood my parents worked tirelessly to make my siblings and I well-rounded, cultured individuals. I have already discussed our Summer tradition of “Culture Time”, and the fact that we would frequently listen to opera or classical music during meals. In addition to enriching us at home, my folks would also expose us to various cultural opportunities that were publicly available near us. They took us to art exhibits, musical theater shows, and museums often while we were growing up. It was on one of these excursions to see the opera, “La Boheme,” that I first experienced being moved to tears by the beauty in the world around me.
My father’s favorite opera is “La Boheme,” and my mom found out that it was going to be playing about 30 minutes from where we lived. So as a birthday gift to him, she got us tickets to go see it as a family. I was 17 years old at the time and every bit of a typical teenager. And as you could probably guess, as a 17 year old teenager the last thing I wanted to do was get all dressed up to go sit for two hours and listen to people sing in a language I don’t understand. That was not exactly my idea of fun, but it was for my dad’s birthday, and we were going out for a nice dinner beforehand, so I didn’t complain (too much). After thoroughly enjoying a perfectly cooked steak followed by one of the most decadent pieces of cheesecake you will ever see, we made our way to the theater and found our seats.
Like any good opera goer, I had taken the time to familiarize myself with the plot of the show before arriving, so that I could try to keep up with the action without understanding the lyrics. As I looked around after we took our seats, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a screen suspended above the stage that was going to show English subtitles of the Italian lyrics the performers would be singing. I figured at least now I would definitely be able to follow the story, and that maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. The lights went down and the show started, and I was bouncing back and forth between watching the actors and reading the subtitles above the stage. After the first 15 minutes though, I was shocked to find that I didn’t need the subtitles at all. Since I had read a brief summary of the plot earlier, I found that if I carefully watched the body language of the performers and listened to the emotions in the music, I had no trouble keeping up with the action. Even more surprisingly, I found myself actually enjoying the whole experience.
In the final act, the protagonist, Rodolfo, is sitting with his love interest, Mimi, who is sick and on her deathbed. As these two cursed lovers were singing the final aria of the show, I felt tears rolling down my cheeks as the powerful emotions of the music washed over me. I could feel the pain that Rodolfo was experiencing at losing his soul mate by connecting with the music. The pure feelings of love and loss were so powerful, so beautiful, that they completely overwhelmed me emotionally, and all I could do was cry. There were no words or actions that could have even come close to expressing how I was feeling, as I sat there listening and letting the music fill me with its emotion and beauty. As the curtain closed and the house lights came on, not only had I gained a whole, new appreciation for opera, but I had experienced what it is like to find beauty in your world.
This was my first experience with finding something in my environment so beautiful that it took over my emotions, and it is what made me realize how freeing and empowering this can be. By staying present in the here and now, and taking in the world around you with an objective, open mind, you will have no problem seeing all of the exquisite creations around you. Depending on your beliefs, experiences, and personality, you will find beauty in different, and sometimes surprising, places. For example, I have been moved emotionally by a creative, enlightening mathematical proof on the one hand, and I have been moved to tears at a heavy metal concert on the other. You may not find either of these things beautiful, just like I may not find beauty in what moves you, and that is ok. So long as we both keep an open enough mind to acknowledge the beauty we do find, and take the time to let it fill us with its power, we will be able to enjoy the rewards that come with it.
Coach Valvano was definitely on to something with his three key ingredients to living a full life. Most of us have no problem laughing and thinking every day, and you probably do these two things daily without even trying. Taking the time to observe the beauty in the world around you, and connecting enough with it to be moved to tears, is something that requires a little more effort. The rewards to be gained are well worth the work though. You will appreciate the world more, feel more emotionally free, and see the world in a different, more positive way, the more you practice this skill. What do you find beautiful? When was the last time you stopped and just let the beauty you see just wash over you? Take some time today to enjoy a particularly moving piece of music, watch the sunset, or lay in your hammock and feel the sun on your skin. Find something that you find beautiful and let it take over your emotions and take you away for a moment. Let it move and overpower your feelings to the point that all you can do is cry. Completely lose yourself in the exquisite beauty in the world around you, and you will be one step closer to living a more fulfilling, happy life.