With everyone aboard the Disney+ train, I decided to hop along for the ride. For those that know me, the wallpaper on my laptop has always been the iconic scene from UP where Mr. Fredricksen and Russell are flying through the blue sky with a house buoyed by balloons. I enjoy watching kids’ movies because not only is it entertaining for children, but there’s usually an underlying lesson that any adult would appreciate. For those who aren’t familiar with this film, Mr. Fredricksen is the protagonist who lived a rather ordinary life with his wife Ellie. The movie really begins when Ellie passes away leaving Mr. Fredricksen a widow. He realizes life had passed him by and that he never had the opportunity to travel to Paradise Falls, their dream destination. Now with all the time in the world, he embarks on a journey toward Paradise Falls while dragging his house as he literally and figuratively brings his wife along for the ride. Mr. Fredricksen is joined on this journey by an amicable chubby boy scout named Russell. The unlikeliest of duos trek toward Paradise Falls together while encountering various obstacles along the way. Just the other day in the hospital, I admitted a patient who was literally the real-life version of Mr. Fredricksen - an adorable old man who just wanted to live the rest of his life in peace. Call it a coincidence, but how fitting it was that I spontaneously watched this movie, and then later that same day, I met this patient! It felt like some sort of weird, but pleasant dream that came to life. Nonetheless, it made me think about an important theme in the movie that frequently recurs in real life.
As odd or unrealistic as this plot may seem, I would argue that most of us do some kind of heavy lifting that mirrors that of Mr. Fredricksen. This house can take the form of scars from previous relationships, family conflict, abuse, or an inability to move on from past mistakes. Even if we envision where we want to go, the weight of such burdens make it ever so difficult to reach that goal.
The turning point of the movie is when Mr. Fredricksen realizes that his wife never wanted him to hold onto her forever, but to let go and embark on his own adventure. Not only had Mr. Fredricksen dragged his house along, but also all of his possessions contained within it. It isn’t until he experiences an epiphany and throws everything away that the burden of carrying his house is finally lifted, allowing him to start anew.
As you reflect on your life, think about the past events, memories, or people that you desperately hold onto when you know you shouldn’t. Whether it’s because of comfort or from lack of courage to let go, everyone has a reason for holding on. I think it’s natural for humans to feel anxious when faced with letting go of something. Reminiscing about the past can cultivate a deep sense of appreciation, however fixating on past mistakes, failures, or regrets can shut out future opportunities that present itself. If we so let those negative influences occupy the majority of our time and attention, we will surely miss out on the amazing things that come our way because we aren’t looking ahead. When we hold onto certain things that we perceive as “good”, we may be doing so because we’re afraid of being left with nothing. Through my own struggles with holding on for too long, I have learned that when you surrender and let God assume control, He will bless you with something so much greater than you ever imagined for yourself.
I believe that some burdens are necessary. We've all got our crosses to carry, but know that you don’t have to do this heavy lifting on your own. Whether its a friend who's always down to hang out, a coworker who’s a great listener, or that sibling who puts everything aside to make time for you, God places certain people in your life to share the load, just like how Russell unexpectedly became the companion that Mr. Fredricksen so desperately needed.
Through several end-of-life discussions during residency, I've learned that there are those who hold on as long as possible to defy the odds and others who embrace the end and choose to spend the last moments of their lives in peace and harmony. The purpose of medicine isn’t necessarily to prolong survival (ie. holding on for dear life) but to decrease suffering and ensure quality of life. Quite frankly, sometimes that means letting go.