That movie was an inspiration to me in so many ways, in large part because it seemed to celebrate authenticity and individuality and to offer permission to those of us who were a little “different” to let our true natures show.
There’s a particularly marvelous and uplifting scene where the free-spirited septuagenarian, Maude (played by Ruth Gordon), sings to her much younger, more constrained and more death-obsessed friend, Harold (played by Bud Cort).
The lyrics are by Cat Stevens:
Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
’Cause there’s a million things to be
You know that there are
Now, at 12, all I knew was that I wanted to be as typical and conventional as possible. I wanted to be all the things people expected me to be, and also, ideally, to be fairly invisible most of the time.
Living as I did on a hippy commune in the midst of a fairly conservative rural area, I worried constantly about not coming off as “normal” enough. I was not one of those inclined to let her freak flag fly.
Singing out was not my strong suit. Still, even I could appreciate the appeal of the message of this song, and of this movie: We’ve got choices, all of us, and choosing our happiness means having the moxie to explore and embrace the options that appeal most to us — no matter what other people think.
This is a timeless message, of course, and I think it has special importance for those of us seeking out healthier, more rewarding ways of living at this time. I say this because we are currently living in a culture where what passes for “normal” — eating processed junk, sitting for hours bored or under high stress, struggling to keep up with the Joneses, and relying on prescription drugs to get us through — is quite literally killing us.
We live in a time and context where being a fully healthy person is essentially a revolutionary act and often requires making our own way. It means saying “no thanks” to all sorts of things (like fast food and mega-gulp soft drinks) that a great many people say “yes” to, and it often means seeking out better alternatives that are less heavily advertised, and far less convenient.
It sometimes means asking people to go out of their way for us (“Can I have those veggies just lightly cooked in olive oil with a little lime on the side?”) and it sometimes means missing out altogether (the presence of hydrogenated oils and high-fructose corn syrup in most commercial frostings has, for me, made office birthday cakes a thing of the past).
And yet, more often than not, I find that choosing the healthy path comes with terrific rewards, and that it’s well worth the extra effort and social discomfort it sometimes requires.
In fact, one aspect of being healthy that’s very often overlooked is the importance of getting comfortable in our own skin — just the way we are now, even as we strive to get healthier. That can mean rejecting the hyper-perfected role models that much of the fitness and beauty industry presents to us, and it can mean accepting that no matter how healthy and fit we become, we may never be a particular size or shape that everyone else seems to think of as ideal.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more comfortable being a little “different.” I’ve learned to trust my own choices, I’ve gotten more willing to explore options, — as well as possibilities, interests and connections — that I might not have before. And that’s precisely what this issue of Experience Life is all about. So, have fun exploring, I say. Or, as the irrepressible Maude would remind us, singing jauntily: You can do what you want, the opportunity’s on, and if you can find a new way, you can do it today.