I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on a loop in our minds.
During the fall semester of my freshman year of college, I decided my comfort blanket would be 1993’s seminal romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle. I watched it. A lot. I watched it when I was stressed or bored or homesick or when I just wanted to watch a movie. I once held a double feature in which the only movie viewed was Sleepless in Seattle. I was the only person in attendance.
Since then, I’ve cut back on my Sleepless viewing time, but when you watch a movie that many times, pieces of it stay with you forever. And although I love Rosie O’Donnell’s quippy “you don’t want to be in love, you want to be in love in a movie,” and still squeal with delight every time Tom Hanks reaches out toward Meg Ryan and asks, “Shall we?,” the part of this movie that I carry with me is Tom Hanks looking up at his son while atop the Empire State Building and saying, “You’re all I’ve got.”
Allow me set the scene: At the end of Sleepless, before that magical “Shall we?,” Seattle widower Sam Baldwin (Hanks) travels to the Empire State Building in New York City in pursuit of his 8-year-old son Jonah (Ross Malinger), who has made the same trip alone, hoping to meet Annie Reed (Ryan), a woman who fell in love with Sam and wrote him a letter after hearing him talk about his grief on the radio, because Jonah believes Sam and Annie are Made For Each Other. Jonah secretly flying to New York by himself to meet “his new mother” is terrifying and troublesome for a whole slew of reasons, including but not limited to the fact that Sam had to give up a special sex weekend with his new girlfriend to go to MIDTOWN MANHATTAN to find his kid.
Regardless, when Sam comes upon Jonah safe and sound on the observation deck, the weight of his fears is lifted. “What if something had happened to you? What if I couldn’t get to you?” he asks before he falls to his knees, holding Jonah tight. “What would I have done? You are my family. You’re all I’ve got.” That last sentence, you guys. That last sentence is heartbreaking. I mean, the man lost his wife a year ago, and now his son is callously risking his life like this?!
That line perfectly sums up the father-son story arc of the movie, but it does so much more. In the hands of Tom Hanks — who, by the way, I have never found hotter than in this moment (I will entertain arguments for Hanks bringing Meg Ryan daisies in You’ve Got Mail, Hanks doing math in space in Apollo 13, and Hanks saying, “You are a toy!” in Toy Story, but I doubt I can be swayed) — is delivered with the perfect mix of relief, desperation, gratitude, and love. It will stay with you. Well, it stayed with me.
Listen, I am not a father nor am I son. I have no experience tracking down a misguided matchmaking child at national landmarks. Yet still, I hear this line in my head all the time. I hear it after coming home from a tedious night out when all I want is a cookie to soothe my soul and I find that Past Me left one in the container for such an occasion. You’re all I’ve got. I hear it when I think I’ve lost my favorite pen, but find it in the bottom of my purse, covered in crumb dust from those Nature Valley breakfast bars. You’re all I’ve got. I hear it when the cashier at Trader Joe’s is extra-friendly and I suddenly realize this is the first conversation I’ve had with a human in over 48 hours. You’re all I’ve got. I hear it as my rewatch of The O.C. draws to an end and I stare at that last precious episode sitting in my Hulu “Keep Watching” queue. You’re all I’ve got. I hear it after a particularly rough day at work when I find that yes, there is enough wine left in the bottle for a large pour. You’re all I’ve got. Okay, actually, that one I said out loud. To my wineglass. It was very moving.
I know most people watch Sleepless in Seattle for the romance and the magic, but next time take a moment to recognize the true gift Tom Hanks (and Nora Ephron) have bestowed upon us: one short phrase said in exactly the right way to express relief and desperation and gratitude and love all at once.