The Tragedy of Unfulfilled Potential and Unmet Expectations

I was very sad when I found out that Alan Rickman had died. Just days after we all publicly mourned David Bowie, suddenly we were faced with the loss of yet another of our beloved cultural icons. I was sad for selfish reasons, as we always are, because now I would never see him in another movie. I would never get to experience the joy that his acting brought to my soul. Every part he was in was brilliant. Everything he did was my favorite. And so I was appropriately sad for a time, and then prepared to move on. I didn’t break down into tears until I saw a meme featuring something he never even said.

Scrolling down Facebook I came upon a simple little image featuring Rickman off to the side, with a supposed quote of his featured on the left. The quote said “When I’m 80 years old and sitting in my rocking chair, I’ll be reading Harry Potter. And my family will say to me ‘After all this time?” And I will say, ‘Always.'” Damn. I couldn’t help it. The tears welled up in my eyes and the dam broke. For that one moment, this was the saddest thing I had ever seen. Now, it turns out he never actually said that. He famously never even read the Harry Potter books, has no children, and anyway the quote was from a Tumblr account, posted in 2010. But that’s not the point. The point is why that quote was so shattering. The point is what is represents.

Fake Alan Rickman Quote

“Saying goodbye. Why is it sad? Makes us remember the good times we’ve had…” There’s another quote for you, this time correctly attributed to Scooter in “The Muppets Take Manhattan.” To me, as a kid, that was so profound. Yes, why was it sad to think about happy things? The movie “Inside Out” touches on this a little bit; the further away we get from our happy memories, the more they can come to represent a sense of loss. Those memories are over. They won’t happen again. We could have had so many more good memories, but now we won’t. Death, or a move, or a falling out, or the changing of the curtain color in the living room even, can spark this sense of grief. The tragedy of unfulfilled potential is one of the most devastating realizations imaginable. We do not weep for the joy we had, but for the joy we may have had in the future that we now certainly will not.

As one gets older, one’s potential starts to decrease somewhat. At least in the public mind. When a young person dies, it is so much more tragic, isn’t it? They had so much life left ahead of them! Older people, well, they’ve had their lives. It’s more natural. This is what we tell ourselves. And yet, the older I get the further away “old” seems to be. Alan Rickman was 69. Huh. 69 doesn’t seem as far off as it once did. I’m not there yet, but I’m more than halfway. And so then I have questions. Will I be ready to die at 69? Will my life be over? Will I have fulfilled my potential completely? When I was 10, yes, 69 seemed like a very old age. Now I’m not sure anymore. And then I see that mis-attributed, altered, manipulative quote, and I lose it. Because what if I don’t make it to 100 after all?

The reason that quote is so sad is not because of any unfulfilled potential, but it does touch on the other great tragedy in the universe, the tragedy of unmet expectations. One might also call them the shattered hopes and dreams that never were. To read that and imagine Alan Rickman as a man, as I am a man, with an expectation, a hope, a dream, of sitting quietly surrounded by loving family, reading a good book in his old age, and then to know that it is never to be, is devastating. He planned on something, and it didn’t happen. He wanted something, and he didn’t get it. This is what brought the tears to my eyes. Life is not done at 69. Life is never done until it is over. For some people that is earlier, and for some it is later, but every death reminds us of what might have been, and of what is no more.

What are my expectations that may end up being false? What are my hopes and dreams that I will never see come to fruition? What might I not get to do? This is what that quote represents. This is what brings the tears. Why do people lie on the internet? That, I may never know. But why do I mourn a man I have never met? That I can tell you quite easily. I mourn a man who touched my soul, because I know he will never again touch it in the same way. And I mourn a man who died with plans left uncompleted, because I know that when I die, whenever that may be, it will be with my work undone.

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Posted in Aging, David Bowie, Death, Harry Potter, Inside Out, Life, Memory, Muppets.

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