Life Is What Happens When You’re Waiting For The Things That Never Come
My favorite quote from “The Wire” fluctuates frequently, but now it’s this one from the wise Lester Freamon:
“A life, Jimmy, you know what that is? It’s the shit that happens when you’re waiting for the things that never come.”
I don’t know why I like the quote so much. I just found it to be very wise and very insightful, but I’ll give it a stab.
In the context of this scene, Jimmy McNulty, the show’s protagonist, is hellbent on completing an investigation into the Barksdale Organization. In doing so, he’s pissing off a lot of people along the way, backdooring the investigations of other people, and trying to redirect the efforts of his entire unit in catching his arch nemesis: Stringer Bell.
Ultimately, Jimmy succeeds in redirecting the investigation, and he’s goddamn proud of himself for doing it. Talking to the unit’s wise mentor, Lester Freamon, Jimmy says:
“We’re good at this Lester, in this town, we’re as good as it gets.”
Eventually, Lester responds:
“Tell me something, Jimmy. How do you think it all ends? A parade? A gold watch? A shining Jimmy-McNulty-day moment, when you bring in a case sooooo sweet everybody gets together and says, ‘Aw, shit! He was right all along. Should’ve listened to the man.’ The job will not save you, Jimmy. It won’t make you whole, it won’t fill your ass up.”
This quote meant a lot to me when I first heard it. It only gave me more ammunition to say that “The Wire” is the best show of all time, but it means even more to me now that it applies to my life.
The quote implies that there are a lot of things we’re trying to do in our lives that will never come, and we shouldn’t rely on those things. Jimmy is a raging alcoholic who went through a divorce after multiple stints of infidelity, and his only consolation in his life is work. He prides himself on being a “good cop,” so much so that he’s willing to defy anyone in his way. He hates his bosses with a burning passion and is willing to do whatever it takes to solve a case.
For him, his work (and the bottle) are the end all be all. He’s not motivated by a noble desire to do good — he is motivated by a desire to prove how smart and talented an investigator he is. He is motivated by vanity.
And here am I on my pedestal judging a television character, but I can say that many of my endeavors in life are motivated by the same thing. A lot of things I do, a lot of the articles I have written, the test scores I’ve gotten, the hours I’ve devoted to my job, or the races I’ve run weren’t motivated by my love for those activities. No — they were motivated by the fact that I wanted to prove to myself that I could do them — nothing more than that.
Maybe they had a different effect, and morphed into something different along the way — but that’s what these things were motivated by — pride and vanity.
I recently learned that that’s unsustainable — what I’m looking for in these aren’t going to sustain me in life. I recently wrote about how I’m trying to rekindle my faith in Jesus to try to find that thing because even if I’m wrong, it is a step to getting a life and finding direction.
My last semester of college was by far my most fulfilling. I broke a lot of life barriers, like opening up about childhood trauma to my team and helping other people do it, and that will probably serve as my greatest accomplishment throughout college. But I was left this semester with the sense of “what now?”
I was told by wise people that the danger when you're making progress in life is letting that progress stop because there are always so many more wounds you need to patch, so much more work to do for not only myself but the others in my life.
And I guess, to some extent, I want to try to live my life a little more based on this Lester Freamon quote. I’m waiting for the moments that will never come, but it’s all about what I’m doing in the process of waiting.