Home Movies of Your Own Life

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Communities / Jul. 24, 2011 3:07pm EDT

By Emily Marshia

Alight in the evening, it's not hard to see a silent movie come alive through a home window. (Herald / Tim Calabro)Alight in the evening, it's not hard to see a silent movie come alive through a home window. (Herald / Tim Calabro)In the glow from the lamplight, my family moved about, their motions exaggerated by shadows of the fresh evening darkness outside the windows. I sat in the driveway, just home from a meeting, listening to a favorite tune cranked to a ridiculously high volume. 

I had turned my headlights off when I pulled in and out of the corner of my eye, I saw my son Ethan throwing his arms in the air and leaping wildly from atop a step between two rooms in exuberance. In his t-shirt and underwear, he was as oblivious to the chill outside as he was to my watchful eye. 

Observing them with no hints to the context of the goings-on inside, I was instantly entranced, and my meeting to-do’s melted away. All that remained in my head was this larger-than-thought feeling I get when I wonder why I am this person, in this body, in this time. It is a feeling I rarely try to articulate because it seems too obtuse for linear, alphabetical descriptors. In moments such as these, the thought leaves as soon as it lands and I am left with an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be living in MY movie…

With no soundtrack, the scene through the window unfolded with emotional pungency. Accompanied by the rising and falling intonations of my tunes, it was magical, and I leaned in closer to breathe it in. Ethan lit on the step a second time, raised his arms above his head and leapt forward again. 

Then 22-month-old Sarah bounced into the picture framed by our east-facing window. She was in her pajamas and from the bounce in her wispy blonde hair, perhaps freshly bathed. I could only see her from the chin up, but she was obviously in a joyful mood and running her standard evening circles from room to room.

There were no voice-overs, no captions or credits, just a few of my own sighs, and a lump in my throat. I remained there for probably only five exploded minutes, but it had the effect of an emotionally wrought, musically powerful movie trailer. The song on the radio ended and I plodded indoors, back to the in-stereo reality of bedtime.

I kept thinking about this experience for a few days afterwards, wondering why it had been so moving. It reminded me of that curious and appreciative feeling you get when you drive by a home at night. You see the lamps blazing inside, maybe catch a flash of someone reading or watching television or maybe even eating dinner … you know nothing other than what you see. We’ve all done it, slowing down or craning our necks to witness a few more seconds. The phenomenon is especially poignant on a winter night when the windows offer frozen glimpses of a movie that is not your own. You fill in the blanks; you set the scene in your mind. 

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But when the silent scenes were of my own family, I pondered how they fit into my whole story. Then it happened again. I was in the bathroom drying my hair. I turned to face the doorway when the mirror reflected the image of my husband, Kevin, making animated facial expressions to someone in the kitchen. 

My view was limited by the angle of the hallway walls, but the scene I saw unfold was perfectly framed. In the competing brightness of the morning and the kitchen light, I watched him say “Hey, are you two twins or something?” 

He was gesticulating humorously with his hands and accented his question with a motion of wide open arms with up-turned palms. Even from a side view, I could see the twinkle of unadulterated affection in his eyes and a grin soon followed. 

The next frame was a blast of pink, monkey-covered fleece and hugs as my ten-year-old daughters arrived on scene and enveloped Kevin in a double hug. His actions produced the desired results exactly. But I never heard a sound. The blurring blast of my hair dryer had drowned out the entire audio portion of the moment, but it didn’t matter. It was the perfect silent movie.

As I turned to complete my task, I contemplated that, perhaps, we are all making our own movie. I wondered if our biggest mistake is in thinking we need to critique every individual frame or scene. How can we possibly review our own movie while it is still unfolding? And do I ever really know in a specific moment if I am the main character, in a supporting role, or an extra—and does it matter? 

What about the romantic notion that it will all work out in the end? We seem to accept explanations for magnificent and tragic events in the lives of movie characters, but I’m not sure I see examples of that much trust in the universe in real life. 

If we knew the reason for every scene, we might miss the moral of the larger story, the whole point of it all. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to write our movie, star in it, and review it. Maybe we all just need to use our ‘pause’ buttons more often to slow it all down, make the movie last longer, and just enjoy it. I say turn up the volume and go get some popcorn…

(Emily Marshia lives on West Hill in Chelsea. A former Chelsea correspondent for The Herald, she has seen her work published in Vermont Life magazine, as well.)





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