Cast Away

by | May 23, 2005 | Priorities

You can learn much during a four-hour plane ride if you listen. Today I find myself seated next to a friendly middle-aged businessman who is balder than …well …than I. Flipping off his cell phone on cue, he checks and rechecks his watch, then settles back to leaf nervously through the latest issue of Forbes magazine. In his right hand is a yellow high-lighter pen, and after eagerly using it, he leans my way to show me something. The black letters jump from yellow ink “Los Angeles drivers burn $800 million a year in gas during traffic jams.”

“Incredible,” he says with a smile.

“Wow!” I agree.

He continues leafing and highlighting, then points to another statistic. “For the first time in history the 400 richest Americans have a total net worth of $ l trillion, a figure greater than the gross domestic product of China.”

“So are we better off?” I ask with a grin.

My question seems to disturb him, resurrecting something deep within. “I don’t know,” he says slowly.

“I guess I didn’t introduce myself,” I say, extending a hand. “I’m Livingstone…David Livingstone.”

“Oh,” he said, “sorry. I’m Robert. “

“I was kidding about Livingstone. I’m Phil.”

Robert laughs, then wastes little time in telling me his story, a story that will give me plenty to think about for weeks to come.

“Five years ago,” he begins, closing the Forbes magazine and squeezing it into the pouch in front of him, “I was promoted to the position of vice president of a computer firm. The dav I received the news, my wife and I threw a party for several close friends. We had a great time…” Robert is smiling and his voice trails off. Then he looks serious again. “On the way out that night, my best friend from high school shook my hand and said, `Hey, I’ll be seeing you …won’t I? You won’t get too busy for Saturday mornings, will you?’

“`Of course not,’ I told him. `I’m not about to miss our breakfasts over some job.”‘

But the job turned Robert’s world inside out. Saturday mornings were spent with his charts and computer. Sunday mornings were a repeat. He never did spend another Saturday morning with his high school buddy. The requirements of the office took priority. One night, six months before our plane ride, Robert came home to an empty house. “I thought I was giving them everything they wanted,” he says. “I guess what they wanted most was me.”

“Have you seen the movie Cast Away?” I ask him. He hadn’t, so I told him about it. In the film, Tom Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a man who lives his life on permanent fast-forward. As a FedEx executive, Chuck’s job is to live life by the clock. To make sure packages arrive on time. To ensure customer satisfaction and accurate advertisements come Super Bowl time. At the start of the film, Noland is seen berating employees in the Moscow field office for missing deadlines. “Let us not commit the sin of turning our back on time!” He hollers. During the Christmas holidays, he is called away from family celebrations to help FedEx solve problems in Malaysia.

Noland’s obsessive preoccupation with his watch is his way of avoiding emotional intimacy. His girlfriend does her best to accept a man who is ruled by his beeper. As he dashes to catch his plane, Noland makes an awkward marriage proposal. Without stopping to wait for an answer, he promises, “I’ll be right back.”

When his cargo plane crashes rather spectacularly in a violent electrical storm, he is, of course, gone a whole lot longer than he expected. With the help of a rubber dinghy, he washes ashore on an uncharted Pacific island. Trapped in a world without clocks, schedules, or a future, Noland’s world is paused, caught in a freeze-frame, and almost stopped. As the days stretch into months and the months into years, Noland realizes that he may never be rescued. Desperate for companionship, he begins talking to a volleyball he nicknames Wilson. In the end, only the hope of seeing his girlfriend again gives him the determination he needs to stay alive.

“That’s how I feel,” says Robert. “Cast away. I guess you don’t have to he on some desert island to be cut off from the ones you love.”

How true. In a fast-forward world, it’s easy to forget the importance of allowing others into our lives and of reaching out to be a part of theirs. It needn’t take four years on a desert island to teach us that our lives are more meaningful when we share them with others.

As the plane touches down, I talk with Robert about balancing our work. About the joy it should bring us. I try my best to remember Ecclesiastes 5:19-2: “It is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life-that is indeed a gift from God. People who do this rarely look with sorrow on the past, for God has given them reasons for joy” (NLT).

“If I could just live the last five years over again,” says Robert, pulling the Forbes magazine from the seat-back pocket and placing it in his briefcase.

“You can’t,” I say. “But you can change how you live today. I’ll pray for you, that you’ll find that balance. That you’ll get off this island and find your family.”

Callaway, Phil. Who Put My Life on Fast-Forward? Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2002, p. 118-121.


Cast Away