There’s an article in a recent issue of Rolling Stone called “Being Bill Murray”. It tells the story of how the now 64-year old actor has a habit of engaging in sometimes mischievous, often beguiling public acts.
For instance, there’s the time he stopped to read poetry to a group of construction workers in New York City. Or the tale of how, while in a cab in San Francisco, he engaged the driver in conversation and found out he was a fledgling saxophonist who never got the chance to play. So Murray took over the wheel, driving himself to his destination so the cabbie could blow his horn in the back seat, stopping at a BBQ joint along the way.
Why does he do it? Murray believes that “no one has an easy life”, so he goes out of his way to surprise and delight those around him, helping to lessen their load. These small acts have an effect on those he encounters making their worlds “a little weirder, the mundane routines of everyday life a little more exciting”. Murray explains his actions this way:
If I see someone who’s out cold on their feet, I’m going to try to wake that person up. It’s what I’d want someone to do for me. Wake me the hell up and come back to the planet.
It’s a wake-up call and Murray makes them everywhere he goes. He has been known to stroll around Charleston, South Carolina, where he owns part of a minor-league baseball team, and make impromptu, spontaneous appearances at public and private events. He “photobombed” a couple taking wedding pictures in a local park, stopped by a birthday party in a bar to give an off-the-cuff speech and toast.
But perhaps what is most interesting is the fact Bill Murray performs these acts not just for the pleasure of others, but also for himself. In his words:
My hope, always, is that it’s going to wake me up. I’m only connected for seconds, minutes a day, sometimes. And suddenly, you go, ‘Holy cow, I’ve been asleep for two days. I’ve been doing things, but I’m just out.
Now you might say, he is Bill Murray and can get away with this kind of off-kilter behavior. But the fact is, we all have the ability to break away from our preconceived ideas of how we should act and behave in public. We all can engage in activities that add a little more light and joy to the world and ease the burden of others.
The renowned businessman and life philosopher John Templeton tells the story of a friend who was sitting in a park one day when she noticed a man “in his latter years” stroll by wearing a bright red cardigan, red cap and checkered pants. He smiled and said hello, then proceeded to walk to a playground where he got on swing and began vigorously and joyfully swinging back and forth.
The elderly gentleman later stopped by to explain that while on his daily walk he swung on that swing exactly 50 times each day. She noticed that the man “glowed with the fullness of life” and that his eyes “sparkled with the joy of living”. His age was clearly of no concern to him, nor did he worry what others might think about his behavior.
Templeton points out that we often curtail our childlike wonder and joy due to concerns about “our self-imposed limitations of age, appropriateness of behavior, the images we hold of ourselves”. This robs us of our ability to fully engage in life. He calls out the example of Jesus who asked us to “become as little children that we might enter into the fullness of life, which he called the kingdom of heaven”.
John Templeton was known by some as a staid businessman, but he also had a contrarian streak, zigging while others zagged. He showed that he is a kindred spirit with Bill Murray when he made the following challenge, one we should all take to heart:
When did you last swing on a swing? When did you last do something “outrageous” that pushed you beyond your present boundaries and radiated to the world that you are fully alive? When did the childlike spirit within you run free in joy and excitement? Age is no excuse; other people’s opinion of you is no excuse; and your own limiting opinion of yourself is no excuse for not embracing the gift of life and living it to its fullest expression.
This post previously appeared on my Patheos column Wake Up Call, January 25, 2015.