life lessons

The real prize

flower

This past month, I watched The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, starring Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson. The movie is set in the 1950s. It’s about Evelyn Ryan (Julianne Moore), a mother of ten children, who supports her family by writing jingles.

I’ll be honest – this isn’t a feel-good movie but it’s worth watching because it’s quietly inspiring. What makes it even more interesting is that it’s based on a true story and adapted from the memoir, “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less” by Evelyn’s daughter, Terry Ryan.

I had many aha moments while watching this movie. Here are some of them:

Decide who you want to be. Then, be it, no matter what.

Evelyn’s husband Kelly, (Woody Harrelson) is an alcoholic. Evelyn is in the most challenging of circumstances, yet she’s optimistic. She creates happiness. Evelyn isn’t being pollyanaish, nor is she assuming the role of saint to protect her kids. She has a deep sense of how she wants to live her life, despite what’s happening around her. She accepts her husband’s shortcomings, yet she didn’t lose herself in them.

These days, I find myself telling my kids that they have to choose who they want to become. We often forget that we make choices about our actions. Frankly, this is advice I’m trying to take for myself.

Live your passions in whatever way you can.

Evelyn’s husband, Kelly, was once an aspiring singer. Due to an accident, he ends up working a blue collar job. He’s angry at how his life has turned out, so he escapes the world by drinking.

Evelyn, on the other hand, gives up her job at a newspaper because of Kelly’s accident. She agrees to move to another town and becomes a housewife. She feeds her passion for words by writing jingles and her talent earns her many prizes.

Here are two people whose lives haven’t gone according to plan, yet are living them out so differently.

There’s never a perfect time to do what you love. You just have to do the best with what you have.

For a long time, I told myself I’d take my writing more seriously when the kids were a little older, when I got the job I wanted, when we finally settled down in our new house, when….you get the idea. There’s never a perfect time to do what you love. You just have to do the best with what you have.

Take this blog post, for instance. I’m writing it at nine o’clock on a weeknight after a day of work, kids activities and cooking dinner. I have no “cabin in the woods” to escape to and no time to wait for the muse to appear. This is what I’ve got, so I’m going to work with it.

The universe has your back. Always.

In the movie, just as things seem to be getting worse financially for Evelyn’s family, she receives news that her jingle is the winning entry. Had this movie not been based on a true story, the timing of these prizes would seem totally contrived. But they’re not.

Looking at my own life, I know that there’s always been a net waiting for me. In the bleakest of times, a stranger has appeared with an opportunity, an email bearing good news has been received, and a seed of an idea has been planted from the ether. There was and is always something that appears at the “right” time.

Your trophy isn’t your prize.

Evelyn wins everything from cash to cars, for her jingles. She ends up trading her winnings for money that her family desperately needs.

I found myself a little disappointed that Evelyn wasn’t able to enjoy her prizes because she truly deserved them. Then, it dawned on me that her greatest accomplishment wasn’t winning ponies and watches and washing machines and trips to Switzerland. Perhaps her real reward was that her children loved her and respected her for who she was and how she lived her life.

I’m so glad I took a chance on this movie that I randomly found on Amazon (or was it random?).  If you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend it. If you have, I’d love to know what you thought about it. What were your aha moments?

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