The first time I watched “Before Sunrise,” I thought two things:
Wow, I wish I had written this.
When I fall in love I hope it’s just like this.
I also thought (maybe even obsessed) about the huge crush I had on Ethan Hawke, who was one of my favorite actors at the time.
I remember him standing up on his desk in “Dead Poet’s Society” and proudly declaring, “Oh Captain, my Captain.” I remember him running from the law in a first date gon wild in “Mystery Date.” I remember him showing up at Winona Ryder’s front door in his rumpled brown suit to nervously (and endearingly) profess his love at the end of “Reality Bites.”
Today, all of those thoughts—creativity, love, and my childhood crush on Ethan Hawke—converged when I came across two video clips shared by musician and all-around creative genius Questlove of The Roots. The clips came from a 2020 TED talk Hawke did and are interspersed with rousing music and emotional movie clips, including from “Before Sunrise.”
I honestly don’t know how I missed this video the first time (could’ve been that whole global pandemic…), but I’m pretty sure it found me at exactly the right time:
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Hawke’s words are a healing balm for anyone who feels a call to be creative, to find and follow their passion, to heal themselves and others:
“So you have to ask yourself: do you think human creativity matters? Well, hmm.
Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about poetry, right? They have a life to live and they’re not really that concerned with Allen Ginsberg’s poems or anybody’s poems until their father dies, they go to a funeral, you lose a child, somebody breaks your heart, they don’t love you anymore.
And all of a sudden, you’re desperate for making sense out of this life. And has anybody ever felt this bad before. How did they come out of this cloud?
Or the inverse, something great. You meet somebody and your heart explodes. You love them so much you can’t even see straight. You know, you’re dizzy. Did anybody feel like this before? What is happening to me?
And that’s when arts not a luxury, it’s actually sustenance. We need it.
Okay, well what is it?
There’s this thing that worries me sometimes whenever we talk about creativity because it can have this kind of feel that it’s just nice, you know. Or it’s warm or it’s something pleasant. It’s not.
It’s vital. It’s the way we heal each other.
In singing our song, in telling our story. In inviting you to say, ‘Hey, listen to me and I’ll listen to you.’ We’re starting a dialogue. And when you do that, this healing happens and we come out of our corners and we start to witness each other’s common humanity. We start to assert it. And when we do that, really good things happen.
So, if you want to help your community, if you want to help your family, if you want to help your friends, you have to express yourself. And to express yourself, you have to know yourself. It’s actually super easy—you just have to follow your love.
There is no path. There’s no path till you walk it.”
You can watch the full TED talk below. I promise, it’s worth the full nine minutes and 16 second.
For so many of us who are full of feelings and the desire to share them, the actual practice of doing that, of putting ourselves out there, can feel terrifying—even paralyzing at times. We worry that what we have to offer doesn’t truly matter. That it’s been said before. That no one will care.
And so often we forget that when we were at our lowest, or our highest, it was someone else’s story or song or poem or painting that spoke to us. That made us feel understood. That made us feel less alone.
Their expression healed us.
For the past month or so, I’ve been deeply unmotivated to write. I’ve doubted myself. I’ve felt burnt out. I’ve questioned whether I have anything worthwhile to share. I’ve questioned if I’m on the right path.
But Hawke’s words, like his performances in some of my favorite childhood movies, have stayed with me:
“There’s no path till you walk it.”