We know that art imitates life. Life also imitates art. And somewhere in between, we explore nature’s blueprint as we each try to figure out who—and what—we really are.
Sitting here in my writing sanctuary, I’ve become distracted by movement in the woods just beyond my window. A woodpecker is making his way up a long, slender birch tree, stopping ever so often for some investigative pecks. He visits our woods regularly. I frequently hear his rhythmic knocking, and when I do, I always stop to look for the handsome fellow. He’s a delight to behold. Slender, coal-black body. Fiery red head. Power and grace that would shame most ballerinas. I’m mesmerized by his existence. And I wonder how a bird that can be so beautiful and naturally gifted at locating insects in a tree still can’t retrieve tennis balls like Cleveland and Bruce, our golden retrievers.
Our woodpecker is the worst retriever I’ve ever seen. In fact (pardon the phrase, but there’s no better way to say it), he flat-out sucks.
But that’s another story. Forgive my A.D.D. moments. This is about you and your worth. Right?
I recently read an article in which Natalie Portman shared how her role in the Star Wars prequels nearly destroyed her career. She explained that after the Star Wars movies, she was pigeonholed as a “horrible actress.”
“I was in the biggest-grossing movie of the decade,” Portman told New York Magazine, “and no director wanted to work with me.”
Though Portman eventually landed some new roles, her portrayal of Padme is a life-lesson for the rest of us. Sometimes we find ourselves struggling to breathe life into a poorly written script. Other times, we have simply been miscast into roles we were never meant to play. However, we have to find the heart and determination to not let those particular roles define us.
In no way is the Oscar-winning Portman a “horrible actress,” regardless of her melodramatic, cartoonish appearance in a galaxy far, far away.
I grew up idolizing John Wayne. When it came to war movies and westerns, Wayne was my litmus test of coolness. However, what if my only exposure to John Wayne had been in the horrendous mistake that was The Conqueror? In case you missed it, The Duke was once horribly miscast as Genghis Khan (although he used his star power to lobby for the part).
(My A.D.D. is kicking in again and I’m suddenly thinking of that woodpecker chasing a tennis ball. Wow, he couldn’t be any more terrible. But I digress …)
I can’t imagine anyone but John Wayne in The Searchers, Rio Bravo, or The Shootist. I cringe at the thought of Wayne’s absence from The Fighting Seabees, The Green Berets, or Sands of Iwo Jima. The Duke was simply made to play those roles. But no matter how good he was in each of those films … well, there’s still The Conqueror …
Terrible. Just puke-worthy.
And such is life … imitating art.
If only we had it as easy as that woodpecker. He does the one thing he’s designed to do. He’s never even tried to retrieve a ball.
We, on the other hand, struggle to find our niche. Like actors on the silver screen, we’ll play many roles throughout our lives, often reading from multiple scripts (some good, some bad) at the same time. We can sometimes lose ourselves in the many parts we play; and some of those roles were never meant for us. Still, we gut it out and perform as best we can, no matter how bad the reviews might be. No shame in that.
My youngest son is a freshman in high school. He’s been told to pick a career path at the age of fourteen. I laugh at that. I’m forty-five years old and still don’t know what I want to be when I get big. I consider all the roles I’ve played (and still play): father, son, brother, friend, lover, husband, teacher, preacher, salesman, landlord, mechanic, writer, editor, musician, actor, bookkeeper, manager …
So many parts to play. So many roles. Some, I’ve rocked. Others, I’ve flopped. But the secret to keeping on keepin’ on is knowing that you’re not defined by one, two, or even ten less-than-stellar performances. You do the best you can in whatever roles you’re given and keep watch for that perfect part still being written for you.
As we’re reminded in Jeremiah 29:11, our Creator has plans for us—good plans—and sometimes we just have be patient until we’re given that script.
In 1981, at the age of 76, Henry Fonda won his first Academy Award for his portrayal of Norman Thayer in the film On Golden Pond. It was Fonda’s final role before his death. With a dynamic career spread over fifty years, the talented Fonda had given us many unforgettable characters. However, he waited a lifetime for that award-winning role that fit him like a glove. It was like he wasn’t even acting.
It might be the same for you. You might find yourself performing in some roles that leave you doubting and questioning how good you really are. Don’t do that. Be like our woodpecker friend. Keep pecking away. And after you’ve exhausted all that’s inside, don’t be afraid to spread your wings and take flight.
And always remember that a woodpecker doesn’t suck because he’s not good at retrieving tennis balls. That’s not the part he was meant to play.