Around Halloween, you have to be careful flipping through the channels, or you might end up unexpectedly landing on a horror movie — no fun at all…unless you like to be scared.
I hate it. Which is why I’ve only watched a handful of horror movies in my entire life — a few when I was a kid (usually at a friend’s house on Halloween) and once when I got dragged to the theater for The Blair Witch Project — and none at all for the last 20 years.
Fortunately, I don’t remember much from this small sampling, but there is one horror movie that has stuck in my mind for over two decades: Cube, a low-budget 1997 Canadian film that follows six people trapped inside a giant cube with thousands of rooms. (Some people might consider it more of a psychological thriller or simply sci-fi, but by my tame standards, it definitely qualifies as horror.)
If you share my horror for horror, don’t worry — this post doesn’t go into any gory details (although it does contain a spoiler). But I do want to explore one scene that still scares me on a deep level:
At the end of the film, several characters manage to find the exit to this nightmarish 3D labyrinth — quite a feat, given that the rooms frequently move (sort of like a giant, hollowed-out Rubik’s cube being turned by an invisible hand). However, one of the characters hesitates in front of the exit; another one encourages him to get out while they have the chance. Suffice to say, neither of them makes it out. (One does though: the movie ends with him stepping into the bright light of the world beyond the cube).
So, why does this scene scare me so much? It’s not because I ever expect to be in a life-or-death situation where time is of the essence (such as having mere moments to jump from a sinking ship onto a lifeboat — or escape from a giant mechanical cube) but because it resonates with a psychological truth I feel on a deep level: Open windows don’t stay open forever.
It reminds me of an old Zen saying (or “gatha“):
Let me respectfully remind you,
Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by, and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken…
Awaken! Take heed. Do not squander your life.
I first heard these words after a meditation session at Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, NY. It sent chills down my spine (and still does), especially the line “Time swiftly passes by, and opportunity is lost.”
Yes, I know the feel-good aphorisms: “One door closes, and another one opens. God never closes a door without opening a window. It’s never too late to pursue your dreams.” But sometimes it is too late to pursue certain dreams (e.g., a teenage gymnast probably can’t set aside her Olympic ambitions until middle age). Life changes. The cube moves. Doors close. Yes, new ones open — but certain doors remain closed forever. Certain once-in-a-lifetime opportunities truly are once in a lifetime.
Fortunately, most of these situations are not a matter of literal life and death, as it was in Cube. Oftentimes, however, it is a matter of life and death for a dream. When you miss these opportunities, dreams die. Or, worse yet, they don’t die — they remain dreams, forever trapped inside you instead of breaking out into external reality (like the lone escaper of the cube). They haunt you — worse than any horror movie could do.
So, rather than simply losing sleep over this grim closing scene, I choose to see it as a motivational cautionary tale — reminding me (in the words of Steve Winwood’s 1980 ditty), “While you see a chance, take it.” Yes, there will be other chances in your life — perhaps even more chances to pursue this particular opportunity.
But perhaps not.
So, please don’t find yourself near the end of your life (or at any point in your life), looking back with regret over chances not taken, opportunities not pursued while you had the chance, desirable doors that closed before you walked through them. If you’re feeling called to pursue a dream and you have the opportunity to do so, please do it — now, while the window is open.