"There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens... For everyone, to eat and drink and enjoy the fruit of all their labor is a gift of God." Eccl. 3:1 & 13
In a recent interview, David Fincher, the director of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, said of his film, "It's a movie about death." But when seen through the lens of faith, this movie is actually more about life.
This is a tale, based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, about a man named Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) who is born old, but as he ages, he physically gets younger.
What I found most captivating was the great chapters in Benjamin's life. He grew up in the bustling 20s and the challenging 30s. He came of age just before and during the Second World War. He learned about want and loss during the 50s, and finally experienced true love (with his beloved Daisy, played by Cate Blanchett) in the excitement of the 1960s. After the birth of his child, he escaped to India during the 70s, only to return home to say his last goodbye's in the 80s and to finally lose his identity and memory in the 90s.
Each chapter, just like each decade, was unique. Benjamin always seemed ready to take on the next new challenge or take advantage of the next great opportunity - while being completely conscious of the present moment, exemplified by the scenes when he sees a gentle hummingbird buzz around the ocean in the midst of World War II or when he and Daisy take in the launch of an Apollo spacecraft as they drift away in a boat on a quiet Florida lake.
While the director David Fincher did focus a bit much on death and loss, he also knew that his movie went beyond that, saying "It's a grand love story that's steeped in death, in the things that we put so much effort into ignoring on a daily basis."
In our world, our own lives are often lived going forward, but always looking backward - asking ourselves "what might have been" or "what should have happened." Sometimes we focus obsessively on this past, so much so that we ignore the opportunities that lie ahead of us (and once we realize what we have missed in that moment, ironically we spend more time living in the past and regretting that mistake, too).
Benjamin's story is a great lesson for all of us. While he lives going backward, he always looks forward - to the next great chapter in his life. His love story is not just with Daisy, but with his life and everyone he had met along the way.
What if each of us lived our lives that way?
Sure we can't reverse the aging process like Benjamin Button, but we can learn to look forward to our next grand chapter while absorbing and appreciating the present moment. That's not to say we don't look back ever. But what if we looked back on our past with the goal of using that to improve our future.
So what chapter of your life are you living in right now? Are you taking in what it means to be alive in the first decade of the 21st Century? And are you ready to make your mark on the world in the next great chapter of your life?
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the eclectic book of Ecclesiastes is unique. In some aspects, the author Qoheleth sounds like the first quote from David Fincher saying that it's all about death, and all our work is in vain since it does not last. But in other aspects, Qoheleth also realizes that no matter our belief - whether a humistist notion that this is the only world we'll ever know or a Christian belief in eternal life - we need to experience and relish the life we have now.
"There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens," says Qoheleth, "A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to uproot..." (Eccl. 3:1-2). Similarly, every one of us will have great chapters in our lives - times for different occasions in our life. The question is how we will take them in.
After reviewing all the opportunities that life presents us, Qoheleth concludes by saying "I recognize that there is nothing better than to be glad and to do well in this life. For everyone, to eat and drink and enjoy the fruit of their labor is a gift of God." (Eccl. 3:12-13).
Perhaps Benjamin Button lived his life according to the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. He knew there was an appointed time for everything and he savored it and excitedly anticipated the next experience, right around the corner. I would like to think that I might live my life this way, and I pray in the New Year, you might also start living your life going forward, never backward.