Essay: A Rewarded Life
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ROGER ROSENBLATT: And the Academy Award for the most diligent math and science teacher in an overcrowded urban high school goes to… and the award for the most courteous counter person, male or female, in a fast food restaurant goes to… and the award for the best ophthalmologist, the best chef, the best taxi driver, the best lower court judge, the best soccer mom, clergyman, CEO, actuary, philatelist, philanthropist, philistine, Philadelphian, goes to… you or me — preferably to me. You didn’t deserve it.
But I must say, it was an honor, a real honor to be nominated with you and all the other wonderful nominees on this wonderful night for this wonderful award. I feel pretty. Don’t you?
Which is why a billion people clear the decks for one excruciatingly long night to watch the Academy Awards year after year. It is the great ceremony of the rewarded life– the occasion when one projects oneself into a brilliantly constructed event and becomes, for one not brief, shining moment, a winner. Let Las Vegas make book on who walks away with “Best Actor,” “Best Director,” best “Best Boy.” For the rest of us, the Academy Awards are only minimally about one’s favorite movie or player among the actual nominees.
What the ceremony is really about is little old us, our generally unnoticed, uncelebrated, un-Oscar-holding lives.
Thanks to the structure of the show and our touchingly eager imaginations, all that changes for one night. Here are the three stages of professional life as we would ideally have them: One, you work long and hard until you learn to do your job exceptionally well; two, eventually you are recognized as one of the very few people who are excellent at what they do; three, you are singled out as the very best by your peers, who throw a whole evening in your honor.
The Academy Awards simulate those three stages. Gathered in a theater are hundreds of a select group who have excelled at their work. Among them are a much smaller number who are especially recognized and have been proposed for singular acclaim. And among that number, only one is chosen to rise, walk up, and stand in the light. The song can’t be wrong: “It Had to be You.”
Behind this dazzling interlude, of course, is everyday painful desire. All year you drive a taxi; you fight a fire; you do somebody else’s taxes; you press somebody else’s pants. You’d be lucky to get a “thank you” for your efforts, much less a gold statuette. And yet everyone wants to know that it was worth it, worth the life, all the training and the practice, all the exhaustion and disappointments, and most of all, all the unacknowledged moments when one truly was the Best Actor, Best Director, best Best Boy.
You ought to be in pictures, but you’re in life instead. And since life does not designate one night just for you, well, here is one that will do. You would like to thank your wife and your husband, your mother and your father, your friends and neighbors, your co- workers, your boss, your junior high school English teacher and her mother and father. And on this happiest night of your life, you would also like to say a word of uniquely heartfelt gratitude.
WARREN BEATTY: The things that don’t have to change for us are our reliability of friendship, the sanctity of our family and the dignity of our work. Thank you very much from way down here.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I’m Roger Rosenblatt.