Words to Live By From Unlikely Places
How the title of a play by Kaufman & Hart changed my life for the better.
Posted July 31, 2022 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
When I was 10 years old, my parents took me to see a play called You Can’t Take it With You. We were living in Los Angeles, and it was during the 1960s—after the summer of love, but before the Manson murders. Everyone and everything was, to quote Paul Simon, "feeling groovy."
The play was not at all groovy. It was from the 1930s. It was a comedy and it was all about a poorish girl and a richish guy who fall in love and want to get married. Her whacky family meets his uptight parents and madcap mayhem ensues.
Mostly I remember the title. It made an impression then, and it’s made one ever since. You can’t take it with you. It being money, fame, or success. Nothing shuffles off this mortal coil with us, except possibly love. Love we have always. Or to quote the Beatles, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
This idea—that you can’t take it with you—has helped me so many times. When packing to leave an old home for a new one, when letting go of unhappy memories, when leaving behind mental baggage, when worrying about money—how much to save vs. how much to spend.
You can’t take it with you, so don’t even try. Just live life to the fullest. Try not to leave behind too big a carbon footprint. Try to make your time on Earth a marathon, not a sprint. Spend wisely yes, even frugally, but please don't be a miser. Or a spendthrift. The goal should be to live long and spend it all.
Why do we hang on to things that we shouldn’t—hurt feelings, bad memories, self-loathing, self-doubt? Why do we let go of things that we need—patience, forgiveness, courage, and hope? What are we, stupid?
Nope. We are not. We are good, but sometimes we forget who we are. The best way to remember who we are is to recall that we or you or I or they can't take it with you. So don't take. Give and live.
The other line that has helped me a lot in my life is something that my high school French teacher once said. In French. Si tu fait le lit, en se couche. Or, If you make your bed, you can sleep in it. That is how she translated it. I later learned the meaning was actually that in life there are consequences we have to live with, good or bad (but mostly bad, according to this saying). But because of her literal translation and my optimistic ears, I thought the saying meant that the reward for making my bed every day was I had a place to sleep every night.
So every day, I make my bed. And am grateful I still have a place to rest. And my hope is that someday everyone will have a bed, and a space to place their weary head.