My pal Roger Ebert is thinking about death. I refer to him as my pal because, although we have never bumped fists. I do like and respect him a lot, we have much in common, and in some sense, we have spent a lot of time in the same places, at approximately the same times, doing the same thing: watching movies. I found out about Roger's ruminations through another long-time "friend" who goes by the name of Mark Evanier. For my money, Mark's blog is one of the very best around. It's the one place on the internet that I visit every day of my life. But I digress.
It is very difficult to contemplate death without contemplating life as well. Ebert and his commentators are doing a fine job discussing both, and the conversation has spurred me to define my own metaphor for life. You see, I believe it to be very much like Disneyland, with a few subtle differences.
We arrive at the front gates, yet we are coming from some other place. There is an admission fee, and it is paid by our caretakers, who sacrifice much to bring us here. When we walk through the turnstiles, we are strangers in a strange land, disoriented, totally dependent on others to guide us. Our park map represents learning before experience renders it less relevant. We spend a little time on Main Street getting our bearings, surrounded by other people of all ages, races, and creeds. Map in hand, we set off to explore this Magic Kingdom.
Like Disneyland, life is divided into different areas, but there are so many from which to choose. Unlike Disneyland, it is possible to be in multiple areas simultaneously, although this takes a bit of practice. These areas are our Experiences. Some areas we visit only once on our journey. We return to our favorite places again and again. I, being one with both insatiable curiosity and a vivid imagination, have spent a lot of time in places like Movieland, Musicland, Cartoonland, and Comic Book Land. I've solved mysteries with Bogart, jammed with The Beatles, skydived with Bugs Bunny, and flown alongside Superman to the outer reaches of space. Have you ever gazed upon the Jewel Mountains of Krypton? I have. It was quite dazzling, and I am still saddened that such beauty was destroyed, even though I can still visit it if I choose. I am a traveler in time and space. That's how I get my kicks. Some people prefer Football Land. Some prefer to climb The Matterhorn. To each his ( or her) own.
There are requirements for some of the attractions that disqualify some from entering. You must be a certain height to ride certain rollercoasters. You must have a certain blood to be a King. Pining for rides one cannot ride is an exercise in futility and a waste of time that could be better spent in other areas of this huge place. There are, after all, many people who have mistakenly wandered into Hungry Land, lost souls in Homeless Land. Everyone gets lost in the park, eventually, but most find their way again.
Something very handy to have is a traveling companion. Shared experiences can provide a deeper sense of enjoyment. There are lots of possible new friends all around. Sometimes, a friend will ride a few rides with you and then decide to depart forever for other areas that do not interest you at all. If you are lucky, you might meet someone whom you can love and be loved by in return. This can open up previously restricted areas of the park, frequently more hazardous, but infinitely more sublime.
It is likely that many of your family members and the friends you make in Lifeland will depart before you do. This is sad. That's the way it is though. Balloons slip out of fingers. Ice cream melts. Even Mickey Mouse sheds a tear occasionally. It is better to just remember old good times fondly and create new good times as often as you can.
One subtle difference with the real-life Disneyland is that in order to stay in the park most people must also work in the park. There are a privileged few whose parents have purchased for them lifetime passes, but this often creates a less than desirable effect. It is much more fulfilling to give back to the park and feel as though you are needed. With the right ambition, you can find a job that will be very satisfying and enjoyable. I wanted to be a musician, so I spent a lot of time working on that. Now I find myself in a Tiki Room of sorts and it pays the bills and enables me to feel that I, in some small way, am returning happiness that others have given to me. It is possible to take pride in almost any job in the park if you have the right frame of mind. How dirty the park would be if there were no street sweepers. They really enhance the experience of walking down Main Street. It is a shame however that so many of the park's attractions are closed to friendly, honest, and intelligent people who happen to be street sweepers. I think street sweepers might be entitled to the occasional skiing adventure or African Safari. But I digress.
Sometimes accidents happen in the park. Sometimes accidents happen before you get to the park. Accidents happen. One must hope for the best and deal with the worst. If there were no random elements at play there would be no miracles. If you should happen to break your foot, rest assured that someone just got a new liver. It all balances out in the end, possibly.
Our time in Lifeland is limited. We all know that. We spend our time as we will, or as we have to, and then it's time to go. And we do go someplace. You can't go nowhere. It doesn't exist. I think it is likely that we enter another reality as we exit life just as we enter Anaheim as we exit Disneyland. It is a fact that our bodies will be of no further use, but of what use is a soul? There is a reason bees collect nectar. There must be a reason we collect experience and memories. The possibility of an entirely different reality is no less fantastic than the reality we are all experiencing right now. Maybe we go back to the front gates. Maybe we go to Six Flags. I bet if we knew what awaited us, our Magic Kingdom would not seem as magical. If we knew that nothing or a worse reality awaited us, our hearts would be filled with unending dread. If something better awaits us, we would find life boring. Why would we bother sticking around?
I hope Roger Ebert sticks around a long time, or at least for as long as he wants. There is no better guide in Movie Land. When the end comes though, I know I will still make frequent visits to Roger Ebert Land. The treasure he will be leaving behind for this and future generations, a lifetime of knowledge and insight into the art of the motion picture, will be priceless and irreplaceable. Encore!