Henry Bemis is a bank teller with thick glasses necessary for sight who enjoys reading books more than any other activity. Henry reads every chance he gets; at work, at home, and during his lunch breaks. Everyone is his life, his supervisor, his customers, and his wife, are annoyed at the fact that Henry rather escape into a book than participate in life.
During one his lunch breaks, Henry goes down into the bank vault to read, locking himself inside as not to be bothered by the outside world. While safely inside the vault, a hydrogen bomb explodes. Henry makes his way out of the vault and sees the bank, where he works, destroyed and everyone is dead. While wandering around outside, assessing the damage and trying to locate anyone who may still be alive, Henry realizes there is nothing and no one left, except him and time. He stumbles across a store where he finds a gun and contemplates killing himself until he sees a fallen pillar with the words “public library” carved into it. Through this hell, Henry has found his silver lining, finally enough time to read all the books, magazines and newspapers he has wanted to read and there is no one to interrupt him. As Henry separates his books in reading order he sees a book he hadn’t previously noticed. In bending down to pick up the book, his precious glasses fall from his face shattering on the ground, now blind without them, Henry is only left with time. All Henry can say is ‘it’s not fair, finally I had all the time I needed, it’s not fair.”
Henry doesn’t need time, he needs to have a life that has meaning. Before the bomb goes off, Henry is living a life he doesn’t want to live. He is using books as a way to escape a life that is meaningless, lacking passion and purpose. Instead of living and dealing with the life he has, working a job he doesn’t enjoy, being married to a wife who doesn’t appreciate him, and having no social life, he escapes into books to live through the lives of someone else. Not finding enough time to read is not Henry’s problem, though that is how he sees it. Henry is too busy living other people’s stories that he has no time or desire to create his own. Though this story was created in 1959, the context could very easily be translated into today’s world of 2020. Instead of reading books while he is working, Henry would be scrolling through social media living through the lives of others, paralyzed by comparison and unable to assess what type of life he should have that would provide him meaning and fulfillment. Instead of walking away from the dinner table and his wife to read a book, Henry would be in his office on his computer or playing video games looking for a way to forget where he is and dreaming of where he could be.
Do you have a job you are passionate about? When you go to work, are you fully present and know the work you are doing has meaning? Do you have friends to spend your time with? Do you have a loved one or significant other with whom to share your life with? Or do you find yourself “connecting” with friends, family, and loved ones through social media? Do you find yourself wishing to be somewhere else then where you are? Do you dream of something else for your life?
So many of us are not living a life we love and instead of looking at ourselves and working on ways to create a story we are proud of, we lose ourselves in someone else’s story. But just like Henry Bemis, if you spend you life living through someone else’s story, you will have nothing to show for the life in the end. Hopefully we will not experience a life changing event like a hydrogen bomb, but our time will come, if we are lucky, when we are older. Our time will come when all we have is time, we will no longer be working, our responsibilities will become fewer and fewer, and what will we have to show for the life we lived? Live a life of passion. Live a life with companionship and friendship. Make things happen. Make lives better. Participate in life. Create and experience all that is out there and stop living through other people. Write your own story.