If you’ve never seen Love Story starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, then you many not know that yes, it’s a love story but spoiler, she dies at the end. When I started thinking about my “perfect” day for this week’s post, for some reason my mind went to that movie, because there’s a scene near the end that I’ve always found interesting.
I can’t remember exactly what Ali was dying of—I assume it was some kind of cancer. I’m not sure they bothered to say. The couple’s inability to conceive children led to tests that revealed she was apparently dying of something incurable. Ali was a musician, and early in their life together, she had given up a chance to study in Paris in order to be with her husband. So, not long after Ali learned she was fatally ill, Ryan went out and bought tickets to take her to Paris. I no longer remember what she said word for word, but it was something like: “No. That’s not how we’re going to do this.”
I always loved that character. And, by coincidence, my copy editor actually had to point out to me that I had unwittingly named a young boy in The Dream Peddler after her: Alistair “Ali” McGraw. So I had to change the name. Coincidence?
What struck me about Ali’s response to Ryan’s grand gesture was how much it flies in the face of what we think of as conventional wisdom for the dying. Bucket lists and such. Shouldn’t we all, even those of us who are healthy, be rushing around, making the most of every day? And if circumstances don’t allow for us to fly off to Paris, shouldn’t we make every other effort to lead the richest life possible? But what is that, really? And doesn’t it look quite different for different people?
I’m actually a huge fan of travel. And I’ve been to Paris and loved every moment I was there. But the other thing that strikes me about Ali’s refusal to run off in some last-ditch effort at “special” is how well I feel I understand it. “Perfect Day” for me isn’t really about experiencing something brand new, seeing a place I’ve never been, or stepping briefly out of my day-to-day, ordinary life. Those ordinary days are my perfect ones.
I’m grateful for every pedestrian moment in my fairly uneventful life. Just like Emily remembering Earth from the afterlife in Our Town, I celebrate hot coffee and buttered toast. The simplest things. Laughing with loved ones. A walk in the park. A really good book, read outside.
My perfect day would have good weather. It would be fall, cool but not cold. I would spend it with the people I love, eating good food, writing, reading. Maybe wasting my precious time watching a really bad Lifetime movie (look, Roxane Gay also swears by them). Obviously, what would be conspicuously absent from this perfect day is anything resembling stress or fatigue. No confrontations. No aches or pains. No stubbed toes, parking tickets, or stains on my favorite sweater (because there are some ordinary, everyday things I can do without).
And that’s it. I’ve always found my happiest moments have come smack dab in the middle of the most ordinary days, taking pleasure in the smallest details of life, and that’s all I really want. For me, that’s perfection.