One of our favorite films is On Golden Pond, which tells the story of an aging couple, Ethel and Norman Thayer, who spend each summer at their cabin on a lake called Golden Pond. We suspect a movie about an old couple wouldn’t find much of an audience at theaters today as it did when it was released in 1981. No thrilling car chases. No raucous explosions. No murders or mayhem. Rather, it’s a film about relationships.
There’s the relationship between the Thayers, of course, and between each of them and their only daughter Chelsea, who comes to visit Norman on his 80th birthday, bringing along her new fiancé, Bill, and his young son Billy. The film explores the relationship that develops between Billy and Norman over the course of the summer, culminating in a reconciliation, of sorts, between Chelsea and Norman on Golden Pond.
The movie is like a picture postcard–beautifully filmed–and it has some of the finest performances from Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda and Dabney Coleman, as well as a young Doug McKeon. But the unsung hero of the film is the lake itself. Every character has a relationship to it. And it has a way of bringing out the best in people, particularly the old couple who has invested so many summers at its shores and on its waves.
During our morning routine, as we listened to music and went about our chores, the theme to On Golden Pond began playing on our Pandora station. We caught sight of each other and, for a brief moment, we were connected by memory and emotion to all the times we’ve shared in our own little lake house. Joe Pool Lake is our own “Golden Pond,” and the parks that surround it are places we return to again and again to create happy memories and to deepen our relationship with each other and with our environs. Last night’s full moon, for example, was absolutely spectacular…one of those rare events that actually makes you stop what you’re doing just to take it in. We anticipated it would be memorable, so we set up our tripod and camera to capture a few images.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. We had trouble figuring out how to adjust the f-stop on the camera and soon got into a heated argument that lasted long into the night.
In his book Imaginary Homelands, Salman Rushdie wrote:
Human beings do not perceive things whole; we are not gods but wounded creatures, cracked lenses, capable only of fractured perceptions. Partial beings, in all senses of that phrase. Meaning is a shaky edifice we build out of scraps, dogmas, childhood injuries, newspaper articles, chance remarks, old films, small victories, people hated, people loved; perhaps it is because our sense of what is the case is constructed from such inadequate materials that we defend it so fiercely, even to the death.
The meaning of our lives, as individuals and as a couple, is made of scraps. Inadequate materials, to be sure. But a few fragments, such as the memory of On Golden Pond, can inspire enough confidence for us to leave our shaky structure long enough to collect something more durable.
Last night, after spending the better part of an hour “deconstructing” a part of our edifice made up of childhood injuries, we recognized that clinging so fiercely to negative messages from the past is not only emotionally draining but also spiritually debilitating. This morning, we were kinder, gentler, quieter. A big part of piecing together meaning involves patching things up.
We’ll undoubtedly have more long nights ahead. But this morning, as we sat surrounded by our doggies amid the dense forest and chorus of birdsong, On Golden Pond reminded us of where we are, and where we want to be. Jon said, “I wish we could just stay here forever.”
A bit impractical, we know. But we suspect that, like the Thayers, we’ll eventually become two old loons on the lake.