What Bill Murray Can Teach Us About Life

Life
Bill Murray, 2018, by Sachyn Mital, via Wikimedia Commons

A few years ago, there was an article in Rolling Stone titled “Being Bill Murray.” It told the story of how the now 67-year old actor has a habit of engaging in sometimes mischievous, often beguiling public acts.

For instance, there’s the time he stopped to read poetry to a group of construction workers in New York City. Or the tale of how, while in a cab in San Francisco, he engaged the driver in conversation and found out he was a fledgling saxophonist who never got the chance to play. Murray took over the wheel, driving himself to his destination so the cabbie could blow his sax in the back seat.

Why does Bill Murray do it? In a recent article published in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, the actor explains himself this way:

I’m not acting like this for the purpose of being exciting – I do it because it’s fun. If there’s life happening and you run from it, you’re not doing the world a favor. You have to engage. It’s almost sad that people are not expecting others to engage, that it’s a surprise.

Murray believes that “no one has an easy life” so he goes out of his way to surprise and delight those around him. His aim is to help “lessen their load.” These small acts have an effect on those he encounters, making their worlds “a little weirder, the mundane routines of everyday life a little more exciting.” Murray states:

If I see someone who’s out cold on their feet, I’m going to try to wake that person up. It’s what I’d want someone to do for me. Wake me the hell up and come back to the planet.

Murray makes wake up calls everywhere he goes.

He has been known to stroll around Charleston, South Carolina, where he owns part of a minor-league baseball team, and make impromptu, spontaneous appearances at public and private events. He “photobombed” a couple taking wedding pictures in a local park; he stopped by a birthday party in a bar to give an off-the-cuff speech and toast.

But perhaps what is most interesting is the fact Murray performs these acts not just for the pleasure of others, but also for himself. In his words:

My hope, always, is that it’s going to wake me up. I’m only connected for seconds, minutes a day, sometimes. And suddenly, you go, ‘Holy cow, I’ve been asleep for two days. I’ve been doing things, but I’m just out.

Now you might say, this is Bill Murray and he can get away with this kind of wackadoodle behavior. But the fact is, we all have the ability to break away from our preconceived ideas of how we should act and behave in public. We all can engage in activities that add a little more light and joy to the world.

The businessman and life philosopher John Templeton tells the story of a friend who was sitting in a park one day when she noticed an elderly man stroll by wearing a bright red cardigan, red cap and checkered pants. He smiled and said hello, then proceeded to walk to a playground. There, he got on swing and began vigorously and joyfully swinging back and forth.

The dapper gent later stopped by to explain that while out on his daily walk he swung on that same swing exactly 50 times each day. The woman noticed that the man “glowed with the fullness of life” and that his eyes “sparkled with the joy of living.” His age was clearly of no concern to him, nor did he worry what others might think about his behavior.

Templeton points out that we often curtail our childlike wonder and joy.

We do this because we’re concerned about “our self-imposed limitations of age, the appropriateness of our behavior, the images we hold of ourselves”. This robs us of our ability to fully engage in life. He mentions the example of Jesus who asked us to “become as little children” so that we might enter into the fullness of life.

John Templeton was known by some as a staid businessman, but he also had a contrarian streak, zigging while others zagged. He showed that he is a kindred spirit with Bill Murray when he made the following challenge, one we might all take to heart.

When did you last do something “outrageous” that pushed you beyond your present boundaries and radiated to the world that you are fully alive? When did the childlike spirit within you run free in joy and excitement? Age is no excuse; other people’s opinion of you is no excuse; and your own limiting opinion of yourself is no excuse for not embracing the gift of life and living it to its fullest expression.

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