In the movie, Stranger than Fiction, Harold Crick (Will Farrell) lives a mundane, lonely existence, void of change or excitement, until he begins hearing a famed author, Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), narrating his life. As the narration unfolds, Eiffel discloses the proposed ending of the story as she writes, “Little did he know that this seemingly innocuous act would result in his death.” In a desperate attempt to save his life, Crick visits English professor, Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), to explore alternate endings to the story. At first, Hilbert is skeptical of Crick’s claim until he learns of the narrated phrase, “little did he know.” Hilbert recognizes the phrase as a common literary device, one on which he had taught an entire college seminar, and he realizes that Crick is, in fact, telling the truth.
“Little did he know…” it’s a phrase most of us have heard many times but probably few of us have thought much about. And, yet, this singular phrase offers an accurate assessment of much of life’s experiences. For instance, “little did he know” that his two-year plan would turn into a 30-year adventure or “little did she know” that the baby she held in her arms would one day be the president of the United States. Regardless of what follows those four words, “little did she/he know,” it’s always something that demonstrates the importance of the choices we make in life, choices that determine what’s available to us and the eventual paths we take.
As I think about the phrase, “little did she know,” I can’t help but ponder my own life choices and think about where they’ve taken me. “Little did she know” that giving birth to just one child would forever change what she valued in life. “Little did she know” that those years with her children would be so fleeting. Then I think about the fact that for twelve years now my family has been fortunate enough to enjoy 4-6 weeks of vacation – in the summers we typically venture out to Florida and South Carolina and in the winter, around Christmas time, we head to Vermont for our annual ski trip. In these adventures alone, I’ve experienced a great many “little did she know” moments… “Little did she know” that one trip to Disney World would result in a lifetime of making memories. “Little did she know” that those annual ski trips would provide a wellspring of laughter for her family and so many scrapes, falls, breaks, and bruises for herself. “Little did she know” that creating her own Christmas memories, away from extended family, would make her appreciate all the more days gone by. And then there’s just the day-to-day ritual that is life… “Little did she know” that her sister would move nearly three thousand miles away from her family. “Little did she know” that her father would be diagnosed, not once, but twice with lung cancer. “Little did she know” that she would suddenly change course mid-career.
“Little did you know…” It’s such a benign phrase but one that ought to make us stop and think about the choices we make. If only we had known that the intended 2- year endeavor would turn into thirty years, would we have done it? If only we had known that one of our parents would be diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, would we have spent more time with him/her? If only we had known that those ski trips would produce broken ribs and extremely painful falls, would we have chosen to go? If only we had known that in mid-career our path would drastically change, would we have selected a different path from the start? In truth, it’s difficult to predict with any real accuracy where our choices may lead, but we do know what matters most to us in life. If we knew that the moments shared with loved ones today would be among the last, what choices would we make?
“If only we had known…” what, if anything, might we do differently?