We watched a couple of documentaries last weekend that are still tugging away at me as the week floats by. The first was Happy, and the second was Bill Cunningham New York. In the first, intimate portraits of happy people in surprising situations—from a rickshaw driver in India to an American woman who has recovered from a severe accident—were interspersed with researchers discussing what they had found to be the building blocks of happiness: novelty, close relationships, and acts of kindness.
In the second, shots of the revered street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham biking all over Manhattan with his camera contrasted with glimpses of his tiny apartment, where he sleeps on a board among file cabinets. For him, sleeping and eating seem to be afterthoughts. And the idea of a work/life balance? Well, he’d probably just laugh and say that work is life.
In a surprising moment, he responds to the invisible interviewer that, yes, of course, he goes to church on Sunday. It seemed that while everything else came second to his work behind the camera, church was a given. The otherwise opinionated and articulate subject paused for a long stretch and struggled to explain why.
More than anything else, these two films challenged my assumptions about non-negotiables. Each of us is constantly making tiny choices, arranging and rearranging priorities, which eventually add up to the more public aspects of our lives. Sometimes it’s impossible to really explain the whys and hows of our own lives and the lives of others. We can only grasp at threads among the complex bundle of will, experience, nature, and circumstances. I suppose all of this is obvious, but perhaps I needed a reminder.