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Susan Sarandon: “Let’s hope it changes”

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Susan Sarandon
Photo by Matt Carr
Short Profile

Name: Susan Abigail Sarandon
DOB: 4 October 1946
Place of Birth: Jackson Heights, New York, USA
Occupation: Actress

Ms. Sarandon, is it necessary to turn your life upside down every now and then?

Your life is upside down. I see my life as an organism and not as something that is on a linear path where you get to a certain point and you accomplish certain things and you stop. You have to look at your life and relationships as being part of some kind of breathing organism, a living thing. Not a machine, but some kind of plant that keeps growing. One of my strongest talents is that when something that I have not known presents itself, I am able to recognize it and change directions and give it a shot.

I’m sure that has opened a lot of doors for you in your career.

Yes, life is much more creative than I would be if I were planning the whole thing! I feel you need to see the bigger picture and not fret over little stuff. I am not holding onto any major issues. I have a tattoo that goes around my right wrist that looks like barbed wire, but it’s actually ANDAND linked together, which basically stands for “A New Dawn, A New Day.” It’s about waking up every day knowing that you have a chance to start again and forgive and be forgiven and to let go of yesterday.

How do you achieve that?

The best thing to do is stay curious, live an authentic life, and put yourself in many new situations with people who have a lot of challenging ideas. As you work out who you are and you find your voice, your life gets more and more interesting.

Does life also get easier?

Not necessarily easier, but better. I am at a stage of my life where my children are educating me. I am learning a lot of things through them. I am rereading books that they are reading for the first time, which is really great. Picking up things that I read before, but now we are having fun reading them at the same time. Talking about music, films, philosophy. Now that I put in my years of raising them, they are in a position to influence me and to open my mind to things.

“Taking the time to see another person and try to listen to them and help them is so healing for yourself. It counteracts all negativity and violence just to see the power of love.

Do you still believe it is possible to change the world?

I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s and because the world was changing, there was a belief that the US would be part of various revolutions. You tend to forget the idealism and the belief of that time. With age it becomes more and more difficult for you to believe in action. There is a certain amount of naiveté that enables you to think that you can change the world, but you can definitely have an effect. The thing is – if you are going for obvious results, you might not know what they are.

Why not?

There is a great story about Dr. Benjamin Spock, the pediatrician, in the early days of the Vietnam War. Everybody was reading his book on baby and child care at the time, but he had this moment of clarity where he saw these three mothers on the steps of the White House protesting the war in Vietnam with their babies in strollers and he thought, “What am I doing?” He realized it was not enough to work on the lives of babies, he had to speak up about the war. And it was because of these women who were standing there.

And they probably never knew…

I am sure they never knew it. But because they wanted to participate in democracy, they had this effect on someone who became very important in terms of the momentum against the war. Very often these injustices happen because of poverty, because of racism, because people don’t have a voice, so when people do come out and want to get the dialogue going, especially if they can do it in a large public forum, it does make a difference. But it may not be something that you see immediately.

“I think love has to do with a fierce gratitude for your life.”

If you don’t always see the results, how can you motivate other people to help fight for a worthy cause?

In a world that is coming apart at the seams, if you want to have hope, you should go work with kind of organization that is accomplishing something. Taking the time to see another person and try to listen to them and help them is so healing for yourself. It counteracts all negativity and violence just to see the power of love.

Has your capacity for love changed over the years?

Everything changes. The longer you live, the longer you make mistakes, the more compassion you have, the more forgiving you are. Your priorities change in terms of how you define love and what you demand of somebody. But you are hoping to move towards something that is a non-possessive kind of love and honesty. It’s like every other muscle. The more practice it gets the better the love and the more open it can be. What you think love is definitely changes from the time you are 18 until when you are 48. Let’s hope it changes.

What is your definition now?

Love is a respect for the divinity in every person. Love is a generosity of spirit. If you truly love someone, it involves trust and honesty. But you can practice love every day without having a partner. I think love has to do with a fierce gratitude for your life. If you are in that state – when you recognize the divinity in every person, it gives you a different perspective on your exchanges with people. Think of the difference a smile makes to someone and try not to get angry when someone in the store is not interested in helping you. If you try to see the humanity in that person, it makes your own life so much better, because you are not taking it personally. I see the power of love to transform things all the time.

Sounds almost religious…

I consider myself a spiritual person, but I don’t really respond well to institutionalized religion. I feel they all start with the same basic tenet at the beginning, but once they became institutionalized most of them have wandered from anything that speaks to me. It’s great that people find comfort in faith, but I don’t understand why a lot of religions claim to be the only one and exclude people. That’s a bad sign.

“You can only do what you can do and certainly worrying about it is not going to make a difference.”

But that’s human nature. It’s the same with American politics – both sides think they are right and everyone else is wrong.

There is a great polarization in the US and I don’t know what will make people come together, but I have no choice but to be optimistic. I just worked in the South and I had a guy come up to me who had the whole Second Amendment tattooed on his forearm, the one about the right to bear arms, and he asked for my autograph. I am pretty sure that he knows where I stand politically, but we had a very nice conversation.

Really?

Yeah, I asked him questions about guns and the point of having these big clips, and he was trying to explain it to me, and I listened. What we have to do now is to be at a place where we listen to each other. That would be the beginning. And I have great faith in young people. I look at my kids, I look at my youngest son, he is awesome. So we’ll see. You can only do what you can do and certainly worrying about it is not going to make a difference.