… Smallville: the one where the Bart Allen (the young Flash) is kidnapped by Lex Luthor.
Lex has, for whatever reason Lex has, kidnapped Bart and put him in a circular cage with an electric floor. If Bart can run fast enough, he can stay alive, but if he stops running as fast as he can, then the floor will be able to electrocute him.
Bart starts running. As fast as he can.
He runs for who knows how long, running so fast that he’s just a blur, running so long that sweat streams down his face, and he looks so tired. And he has no idea if anyone even knows he’s there, if anyone’s even looking for him. He doesn’t know if Clark Kent is on his way; he doesn’t know when Clark will arrive. But he knows he wants to live.
So he just keeps running.
I can’t even say how many times, and in how many ways, life feels like that circular cage, and we feel like Bart, just running as fast as we can for as long as we can, just to survive. Some days it doesn’t even feel worth it. We have no way of knowing when life will stop feeling like that, or even if the floor is really electrified, but we don’t want to find out the hard way by stopping and being killed. We don’t really know if anyone knows that we’re struggling, or if they care that we’re in trouble.
It just starts to feel easier to give up, to lay down and die – metaphorically or literally – to stop running before a rescue that might never get there.
But Clark knows about Bart. He cares about Bart. He’s looking for Bart. And he finds him, and saves him.
Is it about having faith in the Clark of our lives, having faith that people care about us and will help us? It is. But it’s about more.
It’s about running anyway, about having that faith in ourselves, about wanting our lives enough to keep living them. It’s about that kind of faith, and that kind of patience, and that kind of endurance – that if Clark doesn’t find Bart in time, then Bart will die trying to live.
That’s what it’s about … and what I try to remember when I feel like I’m stuck in that cage.
… Forrest Gump: the way Tom Hanks chose to run like the little kid.
Tom Hanks patterned his movements after the actor who played his character Forrest as a little kid. Because of this, grown-up Forrest runs a little differently than other grown-ups. Why does that matter?
Well … why do grown-ups run differently than little kids?
Little kids could run for … years. They never run out of energy. They do exactly what they want, and their little bodies just pretty much do what they tell them to do. So why, when we grow up and allegedly have so much more autonomy and freedom, do we choose to change the way we do things? We try to do it a certain “way” that someone told us was the “right” way – a way that promises we’ll be going faster, or doing it better, or getting further, or whatnot. Why do we do that, when kids go so fast, and so far, and do what they want (even when it’s a bad idea, like jumping off the garage roof to see if they can fly)? Why do we decide to throw away the very things about childhood that made us value freedom and speed and running?
When grown-up Forrest runs like little-kid Forrest, he wins awards and accolades. When grown-up Forrest runs like little-kid Forrest, he becomes famous for running. He goes everywhere he wants to go. He does everything he wants to do. He experiences things that other grown-ups don’t get to experience. He basically lives the kind of grown-up life we all dream about when we’re little kids. Maybe he’s … I don’t know … on to something?
Maybe we grow up listening to “they” and doing it “right”, and we end up turning our backs on fundamental parts of ourselves. We stop running because we like it, and we start running because we feel chased – by judgment, by time, by death, by “they”.
Maybe we grow up, and we forget the simple truth: run. Run fast. Run far. Run the way that feels natural to your body, and your body will take you anywhere … like magic.
“I’m right here,” she told him, tucking him back into his new big-boy bed. “I promise, I’m not going anywhere. I’m just in my own bed, okay? Just like every other night.”
He sniffled, and pulled his stuffed bear closer to him. “Okay,” he said, unconvincingly. He had been very excited about the big-boy bed … until he realized that unfamiliar things make the night particularly dark and scary. He had come running to her room at the other end of the trailer, not once but three times.
Each time, she had slumped a little further into frustration and dejection; each time she had heard his little feet padding on the carpet and then on the kitchen linoleum, she had sighed a little deeper, and gotten up a little more reluctantly.
Someday he’ll be grown and gone, she reminded herself. And you’ll miss this.
She went back to her own bed for the fourth time, and snuggled down under the covers. Just as she was about to drift off to sleep, she heard the padding of little feet at the far end of the trailer.
“No,” she murmured, despairing that she would ever get any rest tonight. “Not again.”
The feet began running, and started thumping loudly against the floorboards – it sounded as though something were chasing the little boy. Thump-thump-thump-thump. Then, as the feet reached the kitchen, the sounds came even louder and faster – thumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthump! Across the kitchen, down the hall, into her room, running right past her and stopping abruptly at the far side of the room.
Unnerved, she sat up and fumbled for the light switch. After what seemed an interminable moment, her fingers finally found the switch and turned on the light.
The room was empty.
She cried out, and jumped out of bed. What the hell?!
She heard her son calling out for her, and she hurried down the length of the trailer to his room. He hadn’t even gotten out of bed.
“Are – are you okay, sweetie?” she asked, trying to slow her madly pounding heart. “I thought I heard you get up.”
“No,” he said, his bear clutched almost desperately to his chest. “I heard somebody running around.”
“It must have been something outside,” she suggested, trying to sound sure of herself. “Well, curl up now, and get to sleep. I love you.”
“Love you too,” he said, putting his thumb in his mouth.
She watched him for a moment, then turned and closed his door; wondering what it was she – they – had heard, she decided they were both just really tired. She made her way in the dim light back toward her room.
When she reached the hall that led to her bedroom door, the light shifted, and a shadow appeared in the doorway. It was a child, standing silhouetted by the bedroom light so that she could make out no features at all. The shape stood still for a moment, and she imagined that it watched her; then it giggled with apparent delight and spun away, running out through the wall of the trailer.
She backed away from the hall and ran as quickly as she could to her son’s room. She lay on his floor that night, with his dresser shoved up against the door. She didn’t sleep.
Not a wink.
… In Time: the part where his mother is running for her life [spoiler alert].
In In Time, Will Salas and his mother Rachel live in a world where time is currency; people stay young forever, so they are programmed at birth to have only a certain amount of time to live. If someone’s little electronic arm-display goes to zero, the program stops the person’s heart, and he dies. As you might expect, the “rich” – the ones with hundreds of years on their arm-displays – horde time, while the “poor” have to work all day just to earn enough time to live until morning. The rich live in one part of the city, and the poor live in another part, separated by concrete walls and roadblocks; the rich move slowly and leisurely, while the poor, having to accomplish as much as possible in the brief time they’re given, move quickly. They don’t mosey, or stroll, or dawdle. They run.
Will has come into some extra time that he will give to his mother as soon as she gets home on the bus. He has a bouquet of flowers for her. He’s excited to see her. But when the bus arrives, she’s not on it. The city raised the bus fare to two hours for a trip, but Rachel only has two hours left. She’s obliged to run, hoping she can get home before her display drains to zero. She runs through the dark, empty streets; she runs for the two hours, sprinting, her bare feet slapping the pavement as she flies with all her strength. She runs, and catches sight of Will, who has realized what must have happened and is running toward her as fast as she is running toward him. They see each other, and run toward each other, and … she’s too late.
Our lives aren’t printed on electronic displays on our arms. Unlike the people in the movie, we can’t earn more hours by working harder, or steal them in a poker game. We don’t know how long we have; at any moment any one of us could die. So does that mean we should all start moving a little faster, and doing as much as possible in the brief and unpredictable time we have? – not at all. In fact, I think we should slow down, and move much more slowly, and just be – as intensely as possible for whatever length of life we’re given. Rachel had the opportunity to know exactly how long she would live; she responded by living her life as fully as she could, by running with all of her strength and will and soul to cling to a life she knew was precious and fleeting. So often, we just go through the motions of our lives, not even aware that time is ticking by, not able to run for our lives even if we wanted to. We don’t see our lives – our time – as a gift that can drain away; we don’t have passion for our lives.
Maybe things didn’t end well for Rachel … but in the two hours she spent running – toward her son, her life, her chance – she lived with more passion than a lot of people in the real world ever, ever do.