It’s hard to describe the night my daughter was born. A few hours after entering the word, she was airlifted over 250 miles north to the Children’s Hospital in Madera, CA. I remember what it was like when they wheeled her away to the helicopter that had just arrived–although often times I try to forget.
My wife and I sat in the dark and empty hospital room silently. I don’t remember crying; I just remember feeling completely numb as I waited for morning when my wife could be checked out and we would be able to go see our baby in the Madera NICU. “Do we even have a daughter?” I remember asking myself repeatedly.
It was the first cold and foggy day of October, and at first the neonatologist wasn’t sure the helicopter would even be able to fly. Fortunately the visibility was deemed safe, and flight was a go. As I sat in the hospital room and waited, I pictured the helicopter flying through the dark and fog and cold with my little girl aboard. I thought about how vulnerable she was being so high off the ground in such inhospitable weather conditions. I thought about how I wasn’t allowed in the helicopter with her to watch over her. I struggled with how powerless I was to control the situation. There were many forces at play, but all I cared about was the safety of a baby who was high above the ground and not even 10 hours old yet.
The next morning my wife and I got into our car and headed toward Madera. (I wasn’t even sure where Madera was when I first heard about it, and now that’s where my baby was.) We stopped at a bagel shop to grab something to eat since we hadn’t eaten since the day before. Everything seemed so normal. The young lady taking our order was very pleasant. I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and tell her my daughter was born less than half a day ago and now she was in some place unknown to me. I wanted to tell her to thank God that her life was normal at the moment; that everything can be turned on its head faster than you can blink and it’s only grace that keeps it right side up.
This memory was present while I watched The Tree of Life. Yes, there is much in the film about being a child and being a parent and the relationship between both. This is not what brought the memory of my daughter’s birth to mind, however. It was many other things: the fragility of life; the fact that we have no control over our environment and no real security (only perceived); that pain has been around for countless years before my existence and will continue on as long as this planet orbits the sun; that death is just a razor’s edge away at every moment and it is up to us to rise and converge toward one another to find a common humanity with which to spread love; that though the way of nature is powerful and I cannot control a single thing, there is a freeing sense of following the way of grace and abiding in God’s love.
Is it true a simple movie can stir such feelings in one’s heart? Yes, it can–if it’s a good movie. It’s the same with a painting or a piece of music. The Tree of Life is why I watch movies. It’s rare that I just want to turn my brain off and be entertained. I want to watch something that hints at God. I would argue that this film is on par with going to church, for me at least. The film scares me with the enormity of God while at the same time calming me with the fact that I am small and timid and should be thankful that the way of grace is brightly lit for my weak eyes.
There is so much we don’t know. We set up our lives and construct frameworks and theologies for what we believe and how everything works, and then something comes along and decimates all our theories that once seemed so real.
This would all be troubling if it weren’t for the moments of grace I experience everyday: My son smiling. My wife holding my hand. The way my healthy daughter runs around our backyard with a lemon in her hand as I chase her and the yellow lab follows.
These are the ordinary events depicted within The Tree of Life. These are the things that we often overlook while we’re waiting for something else down the road to happen–or when we’re worried about some event that probably won’t ever happen. When we stop to appreciate the everyday moments and enjoy them in all their fleeting and heartbreaking glory, that’s when God truly smiles upon us and give us his peace.