Last night I was watching Toy Story 3 with my children. It was almost midnight when we finished. I know, “Parent of the Year” nominations are flying at me right now. But it’s summer, and, well, summer was made for watching Toy Story 3 with your kids until midnight. It’s a great movie, for several reasons.
- Typically movies get worse the more sequels they make. Some of the most glaring examples are Spider-Man 3 (dreadful storyline and boring villains) and the last Indiana Jones movie they made (they waited 20 years to make a fourth movie and that was the script they came up with?). There are exceptions to this rule. I enjoyed Back to the Future 3 as much as I enjoyed the first 2 (this could be because all three had the exact same plot: Marty travels through time. Marty ticks Biff off. Biff tries to get back at Marty. Marty outwits him with Doc’s help. Biff lands in Manure. Marty returns to the present.) Toy Story 3 is easily the best in the franchise, in my opinion.
- The script is brilliant. A daycare center whose toys are oppressed by a maniacal pink bear who smells like strawberries? Brilliant. A henchman that’s a standard doll named Big Baby? Brilliant. Buzz Lightyear gets reset and comes back as a spanish-speaking, flamenco-dancing, Don Juan? Brilliant, and hilarious. Mr. Potato Head detaches all of his parts and re-attaches them to a flour tortilla? Brilliant, and even more hilarious. I could go on.
- Cartoon movies are not supposed to engage you emotionally. Other than on the happy, humor level. But there are a couple of scenes in Toy Story 3 that are just gripping.
- The first is when all of the toys are in a a huge pile of trash at the landfill, and they are falling closer and closer to the fire that will be the end of them. After a fierce struggle to get uphill and away from the fire, there is this sequence where each toy realizes individually that there’s no way they can make it. So, one by one, they grab the hand of the toy next to them. Resigned to their fate, they decide to face the end with dignity. And with each other. Beautiful. But they are toys, Mark! It’s just a cartoon! I don’t care. At this point in the film and series, I’m emotionally invested in these little guys.
- The second is the last part of the film. Andy is getting ready to leave for college. As he says his goodbyes, his mother embraces him and says this: “I just wish I could always be with you.” It’s a dagger right to the heart. There’s only one movie that has ever made me cry. But last night, as I was watching this movie with one child on the big chair beside me and the other on the couch next to me, I felt a tear creep around the corner of my eye and threaten to glide down my cheek. The tear was partially due to me projecting myself into the scene. In only 7 short years, my son will be going off to college. One day I will be giving him a big man hug (complete with loud slaps on the back, a necessary component of every male-to-male embrace), then I’ll watch him drive off while my heart screams, “I wish I could always be with you” as his tail lights fade into the distance. But that was only part of it. I think what Andy’s mom said moved me because of a truth that affects all of us.
No matter where we are, we’re always wishing someone else could be there, too.
It doesn’t matter how much fun we’re having, how beautiful the locale, or how great the company. No matter who we’re with, we’re always missing someone.
That’s the reality of this life. Jobs, travel, and the breakneck speed of life cause us to be without those we love way more often than we should be. When we’re in the company of our immediate family, we might be missing our extended family or close friends. When we’re with our buddies on the golf course, we may wish our son could be there. When we’re traveling for work, we long for our spouse, and think “If only they could be here to see this.” Our grandparents pass on, our parents retire to a warmer climate, a special friend dies young, a sibling gets transferred to another state, our kids grow up and go off to college. And we wish we could always be with them.
No matter who we’re with, we’re always missing someone.
And that’s a good thing.
I think this is one of life’s little mechanisms to ensure we don’t take the ones we love for granted. The old saying is “familiarity breeds contempt.” The more time we spend with someone, the less likely we are to appreciate them. This is why we typically treat our inner circle with the least amount of kindness and gratitude. We’re around them so much we don’t have a chance to miss them. This is the core truth behind the saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” When we miss someone, we tend to forget about the little quirks that drive us crazy. Thankfulness and good memories begin to blossom and grow into a bouquet of sweet reminiscing. And this flowering is only made possible by a little (or a lot of) distance.
Wishing and missing are necessary and often sad parts of life. But they don’t have to be negative experiences. They prime our hearts for greater and more fulfilling relationships with those we wish we could be with and those we miss. They prevent us from taking people for granted. They infuse us with gratitude and appreciation. They make reuniting all the more sweeter.
And that’s a good thing.