For some stupid reason, I stayed up last night when everybody else in the house had gone to bed and Pádraig was asleep, and started to watch City of Angels on Pádraig’s big telly. It’s a kind of remake of one of Germany’s best directors, Wim Wenders, film Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire).
When I tuned in, Seth (Nicolas Cage) was watching Maggie Rice (Meg Ryan) frantically trying to save a man’s life during surgery. Seth was invisible to Maggie because he was the angel sent to escort the man on the operating table into another world. When the man dies, Maggie cannot believe it. She had done everything right. In a strange way she feels that something or someone else was involved here, some other ‘force’ because, in her opinion, the man shouldn’t have died. I switched off in the early hours of today before the film finished, just after Seth’s love for Maggie made him jump from an ultra-high tower in order to join the humans and, above all, Maggie – loosing his ‘immortality’ and special powers in the process.
The scene in the operating theatre made me think of one of my favourite concepts, the condition psychologist Ellen Langer first identified as the ‘illusion of control‘. It’s what our society today is made of. Everything needs to be measured and planned, nothing is supposed to be left to chance. Metrics are believed to help you achieve your goals, whether that is losing weight, increasing profit margins, or finding the right partner on a dating website (not that I would really know anything about stuff like that:). Et metiri potest, ergo est.
When Pádraig went on one of his big trips, to Mexico and Central America, he just went. I couldn’t believe it. He just went. There was no plan, no maps, no guidebooks, no scheduled itinerary. He just went. When I asked him how on earth he could do that, was he not afraid of missing one of the big ‘Sehenswürdigkeiten’ and tourist attractions, his reply was that he would meet loads of people on that trip who would make sure he wouldn’t miss a thing. In fact, he would find places so cool they wouldn’t be even listed in guide books.
He had recognised that trips, as much as life, cannot be planned. In contrast, I was suffering from the symptoms of this psychological condition knows as illusion of control. The beauty of not planning and not measuring is that we can do what we want to do at that moment in time, the likelihood being that we’ll do it really well, because we are so motivated; we’re not restricted by the straightjacket of pre-set goals but let us excite by our creativity; we’re not competing against anybody but appreciate the work of others; we’re kind to others and enjoy life to the fullest in great company.
Pádraig could have taught me about exploration, kindness, imagination, creativity, and living the life. Had I ever listened a bit closer when I was busy filing reports and checking metrics.
Maybe something, someone made me switch on the telly at midnight so that I would watch the angel jumping from that tower to be close to the one he loved, to be human.