When the movie Jaws came out in 1975, it literally scared America out of the water. Even though we never got a good look at the shark, its absence is actually what made the movie so good. The fear came from the hint that lurking below might be a beast about to tear our legs from our body.
The film spawned sequels, copycats and sparked a national interest in sharks which has continued, unabated, to this day. Boys especially are drawn to the week-long shark show marathons, and aquariums can’t stock enough of the toothy fish. And Jaws managed to do for Marine Biology what Top Gun did for naval aviation and Pretty Woman did for prostitution.
By every standard you can think of, Jaws was a success. We laughed, we cried and it became a part of us.
But here’s the thing about the movie: it wasn’t what the creators wanted. They spent millions on a real mechanical monster designed to be the star of every scene. They failed. The shark was a broken mess most of the time, but the producers were on a budget and had to get a movie made. They rewrote the script to account for a star that wouldn’t work, and ended up with a cinematic masterpiece.
Last week, a guy (you wouldn’t know him, he’s from another state and doesn’t read this magazine) cried on my shoulder because his plans weren’t working out. In a tale as old as America itself, he ran away from the circus to become an accountant. He was lamenting the fact that after 10 years he still couldn’t afford a Ferrari. “I thought I’d be further ahead by now,” he sobbed.
This was fast getting out of hand, so I threw him out of my office. We Sneed’s are known as an empathetic people, but this was just too much. After a long lunch with plenty of time to reflect though, I realized I wasn’t much help to my friend. Here’s what I would have told him if I had had my wits about me:
“Plans are a great place to start, but that’s all they are: a starting point. Salk planned to catalogue polio strains but instead discovered penicillin. Columbus sought a shortcut to India but failed by thousands of miles.
“Life doesn’t always work out the way we plan, but it always works out. Sometimes for the better, and yes, sometimes for the worse, but I’m guessing that no one has ever had it go exactly the way they thought it would. If there’s one thing God thinks is funny, it’s our life plans.
“So Buddy,” I should have said with maybe a quick pat on the back or a wry smile, “Look at life as a week long road trip to Connecticut. You’ll start out on I-76 and eventually get to Hartford, but the six days in the middle are where the living is. Planning every stop will keep you from seeing the sod house in Nebraska or the biggest/smallest something in Iowa.
“Planning each stop assumes that you know more today than you will tomorrow; and if that’s the case, I feel sorry for you.”
Jaws, penicillin and America all happened as a result of plans that fell through. If there’s anything we can take away, it’s that just because you aren’t where you thought you’d be, you’re still somewhere. And that’s always a good thing.