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What does it mean to make a living?

The film The Old Man and the Gun tells the real life story of Forrest Tucker, who is played by Robert Redford in his final film. A career thief, Tucker’s most famous exploits were as the leader of the “Over the Hill Gang”, a group of three senior citizens who robbed over 60 banks during a three-year period.
 
Tucker was affable and artful in his heists. He escaped from eighteen different prisons, each escape more clever than the previous. He, of course, was not adverse to risk and loved the thrill of chance and challenge. As evidenced by his being arrested nineteen times.
 
In one scene, a story is told of an exchange between Tucker and his jailor who seems perplexed at the vocation choice of such an intelligent and charming man.  
 
“Surely, there must be a better way to make a living,” he tells Tucker.  To which Tucker responds. “It’s not making a living, it’s living.”
 
Reflecting on that distinction gave me pause.
 
 “Making a living,” means, “to earn enough money to support oneself financially.” 
 
Conversely, when we think of  “living”, we ascribe it to our finest moments  - where our best selves, dreams, hopes and wishes are on full display.
 
It is natural to resent the idea  of “making a living” while longing for the chance to truly “live.”
 
Another character portrayed in the film was the detective who ultimately solved the case that led to Tucker’s final capture. His character and life are depicted much differently than Tucker. He lives modestly, questions the meaning of his work, and seems torn between contentment and disappointment.
 
Beyond disposition, what also separates these two men is the composition of their families.  The detective is a devoted husband and attentive father of two. In the film, Tucker’s past includes a wife and two children with which he has had no relationship.
 
In looking to see how much of the film was true to life (most of it was), I stumbled upon another quote that was perhaps more telling.  Frail and living in the prison in which he died, Tucker told a reporter, “What hurts most . . . is that I know how much I disappointed my wife…that hurts more than anything.”
 
A reminder that making a living can still bring dignity and that too much “living” can lead to a prison of our own making.

 

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