Every so often, we’re faced with situations (small and large) that could be considered life changing moments. Sometimes we clearly see the magnitude at the time, others reveal themselves later on. Whether we know it or not, how we respond can determine the path of our lives — for better or worse.
On Father’s Day a few years ago my family and I went to see our local AAA baseball team play. In the stadium that day, signing copies of his new book was Dwier Brown.
You may not recognize him by name, but older readers would definitely recognize his face. Dwier played Kevin Costner’s dad in the classic 80s baseball movie Field of Dreams. His big scene, of course, was the climactic moment when the two finally play catch. (Sorry, but there’s no such thing as spoilers on 30-year-old movies.)
Anyway, if you ask people what they think the most powerful scene of that movie was, that’s the one they’ll mention. I won’t dispute that. Instead, I want to add three more scenes to that list.
These are life changing moments for Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella. How he reacts in these situations dictate not only the arc of the movie but also the rest of the character’s life.
1. Burning The Boats
There’s an old story (a few different versions, actually) that tells of a general sailing to a distant land. He and his army were outnumbered and facing a much stronger opponent. Their chances of survival were not good.
So what did the general do? When they arrived, he ordered his soldiers to burn their ships.
Why would he do that? Because there’s no greater incentive for an army about to fight than to know that retreating is not an option.
As the story goes, his army won the battle with ease.
What Does That Have To Do With Field of Dreams?
In Field of Dreams, Ray hears the Voice a number of times and still doesn’t understand what it wants him to do. Finally, he connects the dots when he sees a vision of the baseball field out in the middle of his cornfield.
At this point, he’s so awestruck and bewildered by what he’s hearing and now seeing that his mind is basically made up — he’s going to plow over his major crop to build a baseball field.
His wife Annie must know he’s serious (or crazy) because she’s very quick to say okay.
Ray spends the rest of that summer and fall cutting down his cornfield to build a baseball diamond.
Now this is the part everyone forgets.
The crop is cut.
The field is built.
But then nothing happens.
The next scene shows a sad Ray looking out the window at a snowy field as his family celebrates Christmas. The weather eventually breaks. Still, no one has “come” as the voiced promised. By now, nearly a full year has passed.
So what’s the point?
The point is, significant success requires commitment. Maybe not to the degree of burning our boats — there is such thing as a calculated risk, after all. But we can’t push ourselves beyond what is comfortable until we first put something meaningful on the line.
That is where our greatness lies. These are life changing moments.
In this case, Ray is so certain of what his purpose is there’s no doubt in his mind he should listen to the Voice.
We all have a similar voice guiding us toward our greatness. The question is how willing are we to follow it?
2. One Step at a Time
Our journeys through life are very rarely ever all laid out at once. We might have a plan (and I recommend you do), but even that isn’t guaranteed. Often, all we can see is our very next step.
In Field of Dreams, Ray’s entire journey is never clear beyond his next decision. Instead, each new piece reveals itself as he goes.
Beginning with the first message “If you build it, he will come,” all the way through until the payoff scene with his dad, Ray moves through his adventure led only by intuition, signs or nudges from the Universe, and faith that he’s doing what he should.
And example is when Ray and Terrence Mann decide to follow the nudge and look for Moonlight Graham. Ray asks “What will we do when we find him?” and Mann replies, “How the hell should I know?!”
How many times have we been led by intuition but failed to recognize it?
Or maybe we lacked the conviction to pursue it because we couldn’t see the whole path?
How often do we let our lack of knowing what we’ll do next keep us from advancing to that step in the first place?
Too many times to count, right?
What stands in our way are things like fear and uncertainty. And neither of those have inherent power. They only have power over us when we allow them to.
The following excerpt best summarizes that idea. It’s from Anne Lamott’s bestselling book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:
“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going; you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”
In my experience, living a life of purpose requires us to trust that the entire road won’t always be lit for us. Instead, we need to proceed with faith that we’ll be able to see just enough to keep moving forward.
3. Our “Failures” Might Be Lining Us Up for Success
A significant part of the story in Field of Dreams is the life of Archie “Moonlight” or “Doc” Graham. It had been a dream of his to get an at-bat in the Majors.
In the last game of the season he finally got in, playing only a half inning and never getting up to bat. He knows he’s going to be sent back down to the Minor Leagues next season so, disappointed, Graham quits baseball.
He came so close to fulfilling his dream, but ultimately decided to give up. He went on to become a doctor instead. An admirable career to be sure.
As they are figuring out what to do, this fantastic exchange takes place between Ray and Terrence:
And then I figured maybe we’re not supposed to take him with us. So now I don’t know why the hell we were supposed to come here.
Maybe it was to find out if one inning can change the world.
It did for these people. If he’d gotten a hit, he might’ve stayed there.
Mann is referring to the residents of the small Minnesota town where Graham lived and worked. When Ray and Terrence ask about Graham, they hear stories filled with admiration for Doc.
It sounds like Graham became a terrific doctor. And, like Mann says, had he gotten a hit (or even up to bat) maybe he never would have left baseball. Maybe he never would have become a doctor. Maybe he never would have made a positive impact on so many people in that small town.
Maybe, in his case, one inning did change the world.
This is all to drive home the point that our failures aren’t always just “failures.” They only become so if we fail to acknowledge the direction they put us on instead.
Even if we don’t understand at the time, sometimes our failures help to push us toward a life of success and meaning.
Life Changing Moments Are All Around Us
Life moves fast. It’s easy to become so bogged down with responsibilities and stress that we forget to look for the signs. But these life changing moments are all around. All we have to do is look out for them, acknowledge them, and act when appropriate.
If it takes a 30-year-old movie like Field of Dreams to spark our awareness then so be it. I love movies for this very reason. They allow us some needed escapism and, if we’re paying attention, can provide the perfect wakeup call, too.
Some people might think Ray Kinsella was nuts. He didn’t make decisions that an outsider would consider “normal.”
What he did do was follow his intuition. He had faith in himself and his calling to a purpose.
Did he take some risks? You bet he did.
Would they have been costly if they didn’t work out? Yeah, probably.
And he knew that.
But he took the leap anyway. Because to ignore that voice — the same voice we all have — is to cost yourself something more.
Header Photo Credit: JoeyBLS