I was talking to a friend the other day, and we were commiserating about how sometimes, while you can be happy for the good things happening in other peoples’ lives, it can be downright frustrating and discouraging when the not-so-great stuff seems to be continually occurring in yours. That brought to mind a great scene in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, where the lead character, Ray Kinsella, upon learning that writer Terrance Mann will walk out into the cornfields with Shoeless Joe Jackson, becomes visably upset. In a roundabout conversation with Shoeless Joe, Ray finally asks the question that I think most of us ask ourselves each day: “What’s in it for me?”
I love my family absolutely. I love that I am able to stay home and be with my kids. Frequent mutterings and grumpiness aside, I really am happy that I get to homeschool them, keep my house fairly organized, not walk in the door so exhausted that I can’t enjoy time with my husband, and a whole host of other perks that come from being a stay-at-home mom. Still, I – more often than I should – feel as if I put so very much of my time, and well, let’s face it, ME, into everyone else’s health, happiness, and well-being, that I’m often left wondering at the end of the day (shoot, sometimes at the beginning of it too!) “What’s in it for me?”
When I want to sit quietly and read a book, but the phone rings, and my husband asks me to run an errand this very minute, and my whole day is upended from that point, I think, “What’s in it for me?” When I need to jump in the car to go pick up my sick kid who goes to school an hour and a half a way, and then I come home to 8 loads of laundry, 2 remaining hours of algebra and history, I think, “What’s in in for me?” When I envision my Saturday spent watching some old Sandra Dee or Jimmy Stewart movie, then my husband has to run to the office for a “couple” hours, and my son drives the mower into a ditch, I begrudgingly come to the rescue. I am by then so sorely lacking in “my” time, that I start grumbling “What’s in it for me?” And after 4,276 repeated admonishments to “just put the dishes in the dishwasher when you’re done with them,” and they are magically left to get themselves from the sink into the dishwasher, I wonder “What’s in it for me?” Honestly, I don’t have to even really do much for anyone else to start selfishly thinking “What’s in it for me?”
Because, really, it is pretty selfish to always be thinking about what’s in it for me. If I just stopped for a moment, and really thought about it, I’d recognize that all of it is for me! The messiness of family. The gamut of emotions I deal with each day. The aches, the pains, the creeky knees. The temper tantrums. The completely unexpected $400 bill from the plumber to fix the pipes that burst. That’s for me so I can recognize the really good stuff.
When Ray Kinsella finally blurts out his “What’s in it for me?” question, Shoeless Joe Jackson just smiles and utters the highly recognizable phrase from the movie: “If you build it, he will come.” All along, the movie-goer has varying ideas about what that line really means. But when Joe slightly cocks his head, the audience realizes that “he” is really Ray’s deceased father. It’s an emotional scene, no doubt because while Ray and his dad had a deep love for each other, their relationship was messy. But it’s in living through all the chaos of a relationship that the value of it is revealed. So while Ray often felt confused by doing the things he felt he should do, and experienced discomfort and several setbacks from doing those very things, ultimately, what was in it for him was the thing he most desired – an opportunity to make things right with his dad. Now, my dad is still living, and I know that it’s not often that life gives one a second chance. But the point is that what Ray thought he most wanted was really just illusory. A trip into the mysterious cornfield seemed to be what he wanted, but reality, when it stared him squarely in the face, made perfect sense. Ray was working toward, yet waiting for something all along; he just didn’t really know exactly what it was.
Too often, I tend to think like Ray. My focus is too narrow and I’m busily complaining about all I’ve done for everyone else that I forget the bigger picture: my family is the reason I do so much with such little reward. I signed up for this. And it was my first choice. I didn’t (and don’t) want to be president of the nation, a movie star, a Nobel prize winner. I just want to be me. Some days, if I pay close enough attention, the bounty is all around me for the taking. A hug. A smile. The need for my presence… These are my prize each and every day. And I know I’ll have a great reward one day. As a matter of fact, I know EXACTLY what’s in it for me.