Life as an Adventure

by Site Author

During the last season of Mad Men, Betty Draper, the protagonist’s ex-wife, is dying of cancer. She gives her daughter, Sally, a sealed letter, to be read upon her death. Sally can’t wait and opens the letter right away. In it, her mother describes the dress in which she’d like to be buried and the arrangements that need to be made for her funeral. Then, she closes the letter with this:

I always worried about you because you marched to the beat of your own drum. But now I know that’s good. I know your life will be an adventure.

Those words made Sally, the character, cry. They also stuck with me: life as an adventure.

I like the phrase because of the view it represents. Adventures are not successful or unsuccessful, good or bad. And so the phrase describes a view of life that is non-linear, not based on achievement or wealth or accomplishments, but based on relishing life for its own sake.

Phillip Roth, also nearing the end of his life, takes a similar view. In a New Yorker review, Claudia Roth Pierpont describes one of the closing scenes of Roth’s last novels, Everyman.

Standing at his parents’ grave, Everyman also speaks a few words aloud: “I’m seventy-one. Your boy is seventy-one”—as might be expected, the words are hardly eloquent, not remotely a prayer, the plain expression of a common (if astounding) fact. Yet he seems not at all surprised when his parents reply. “Look back and atone for what you can atone for,” his father advises—coming close for a moment to the language of the medieval play—“and make the best of what you have left.” The hero feels released from fear… Unlike the play, in which God’s mercy ultimately leads Everyman to eternal life, Roth’s book offers no comfort. Nor is there a parting moral. There are just the mother’s words, warm with the only satisfaction to be had. “Good,” she replies to her boy, an old man himself now and about to die. “You lived.”