The Quest for Human Destiny
Do pure chance and accidents lead our lives or are they filled with deep purpose and destiny? This has been the question posed on our minds while watching the films Grand Canyon, Ground Hog Day, and Dickens’s Christmas Carol. How large a role do the cosmos play in our everyday lives? Do they even care about our fates? Even yet, do these so-called cosmos, higher power, or whatever one might chose to call it even exist? If there s not an ultimate source guiding us and giving our lives meaning, then what are we working towards? Why are we even here? Why were we born? Why do we die? What in the world are we supposed to do with the time in between? There are so many more questions and even more theories on how to answer them. The films mentioned above and their corresponding stories hit on a few of these theories as I will discuss in further detail.
Both the story of Gilgamesh and the film Grand Canyon deal with a loss of innocence . In the film, the cosmos don t seem to care all that much about Mac when he is almost robbed on the street corner of a bad neighborhood. Lucky for him Simon shows up just in the nick of time and after a life threatening talk with the muggers Simon drives Mac to safety in his tow truck. Whereas in the beginning the cosmos seemed impervious one could now argue that they were the ones who sent Simon to the rescue before any harm came to Mac. The cosmos had destined these two men to meet and the odd circumstances simply made the encounter more meaningful. Or of course as I said before Mac just lucked out. Nonetheless, this is where Mac s loss of innocence took place. This loss of innocence is of course in the metaphoric sense of the word because no doubt a man in his mid forties would ve lost his innocence long ago. For the first time he came face to face with the possibility of death.
Like Mac, Gilgamesh also was forced to come to terms with death but in a different way. In Mac s case its hard to be sure what role the cosmos played, while in Gilgamesh s tragedy the cosmos were directly responsible as they struck Enkidu with an illness which took his life. He is overtaken with grief for his friend but also for himself because he realizes he too will someday die. As Mac did, Gilgamesh now looses his innocence as he falls into the consciousness of mortality .
At this point both men decide its time to take full advantage of their lives, although in different manners. Mac has an overwhelming need to befriend and thank Simon in everyway possible for saving his life. He even goes as far as finding Simon the woman of his dreams. Somewhat ironically Simon and Mac become close friends, much like Gilgamesh and Enkidu had been. After being so close to death Mac embraces life and attempts to mend past mistakes. Gilgamesh on the other hand refuses to accept death and goes on a quest to find a cure to human mortality. He found it and just as quickly he lost it. A reason for this could be perhaps because his search was a selfish one. In the end this great king died like all other mortals, such was his destiny; everlasting life was not his destiny . If all the other men from the films and stories had figured out this simple fact this could be the end of this essay, but no such luck and so we continue.
After examining Phil from the film Ground Hog Day and the Buddha quite a few similarities become evident. At some point they both find themselves searching for the meaning of life, imagine that. How they get there is somewhat different though. Both were celebrities in a way. The Buddha was a prince while Phil was a reporter who carried himself as though he was a prince. Buddha was to succeed his father and become king. His father also wished him to live a perfect life free of suffering therefore Buddha was confined to the palace walls where he could lead a pleasurable life and be protected. This living arrangement soon backfired though because everybody knows curiosity killed the cat so to no surprise Buddha wanted to know what the world was like outside the palace gates. What he found when he ventured out in the real world was not what he expected. After three journeys he discovered old age, sickness and death. It was way too much for him to bear. Upon returning to the palace he was unable to enjoy his riches now that he had knowledge of the suffering of the world. So, like all the greats, he set out on a quest for an answer to the problem of mortality.
Phil, on the other hand, had no choice. His quest for meaning in life was thrown on his lap and there was no way to get rid of it, for a while at least. Phil had a warped sense of reality to begin with. He wasn t by any means a people person . Unlike the Buddha, who was compassionate and selfless from the get go, Phil started out only out for himself. His outlook in life very likely included the phrase, screw the little people. This could very well be the reason why destiny trapped Phil in the same day over and over again. If this was not destiny s work trying to teach a selfish man a lesson what other explanation is there? After many unsuccessful suicide attempts, Phil felt no need to find the answer to mortality like Buddha did. What was the point in that? He was immortal and he wanted to enjoy by doing as many things without consequence as possible. No doubt that soon got a tad boring, which is why he decided to make the most out of the situation. He made a purpose for himself. Helping those in need became his mission, after all he did have an eternity to get it right.
Both men finally reached enlightenment. Buddha sought it out and as had been predicted by Asita at the time of his birth, became a great world savior when he reached enlightenment. Although he did die, he did it willingly having brought salvation to the world in his final entry into Nirvana and liberation from all death and rebirth. This had been his destiny all along and he fulfilled it. Phil, on the other hand, was forced to realize life should be lived to the fullest and once he did he found his enlightenment and fate released its claws from his life and allowed him to have a tomorrow.
The final comparison is between Augustine and Ebenezer Scrooge. The main similarity found with this pair being that they both undergo a kind of conversion. Also, in comparison to Buddha and Gilgamesh, Augustine too goes on a quest for mortality and meaning. Augustine does find an answer as did Buddha and as does Scrooge also. I found that Scrooge and Augustine are the most alike of all the comparisons thus far. Both men were blinded and seduced early in life by what the world could offer in power and wealth. They both came across some form of divine intervention, which caused them to desire wisdom and yearn change in their lives for the better. Linear time is also comparable between the two men. Augustine divided his life into seven stages, which mainly consisted of three parts of his life. The first three stages, infancy, childhood and adolescence, all took place before he reached the age of nineteen. The next two stages, awakened and seeking wisdom, begin at age nineteen. Then finally at age 31 comes finding wisdom, which is only followed by the final stage, death, the beginning of eternal life. Although he does seem to think there is meaning to be found, the seven well planned out stages of his life don t leave much up to chance. Scrooge s experience with the spirits who aided him in finding newfound meaning in life was also divided into three parts, the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. Each showed him parts of his life he might ve forgotten or had not yet been aware of in hopes he would convert and be a better man. One of the differences between Augustine and Scrooge involves the circumstances leading to their conversions.
Like the Buddha and Gilgamesh, Augustine knowingly and by choice sought out the wisdom of God. Following his conversion he begins to see his life from a brand new perspective. He examines past events of his life that at one time seemed random and disconnected and now finds hidden purpose in them. He finds footprints God has left behind in his memories, which served as evidence that God had indeed played a major role in the events of his life. After believing his life to be aimless, faith in life having meaning gave him a purpose.
Scrooge was not so quick to welcome his spiritual awakening with open arms. He most definitely didn t ask for it or want it for that matter. Like Phil s endless repeating day, the spirits forced their way, uninvited into Scrooge s life, forcing him to take a step back and evaluate his actions throughout the years. The ghost of Christmas past made him take close look back at his childhood and adolescence, not unlike Augustine s first stage, and examine past events as they were retained in his memory. Although his past memories didn t fully affect him seeing his present and future sure did. He saw the horrible toll his actions were taking on those around him. Even more frightening though was the future, where he saw he would die with no one to love him because he had not allowed himself to love anyone. He realized he had to change in order to make things right. This realization exemplifies the Augustinian theme which says, knowledge of God occurs through self-knowledge. It was destiny and fate intervening which allowed Scrooge to acquire self-knowledge and thus convert into the better person he always had the potential of being.
Out of all the stories and films I d have to say that in my opinion Ground Hog Day is the one that expresses human destiny and purpose best. In a twisted way it seems to be the most realistic. Forget for a minute the impossibility in the film of one day repeating a million times and focus on Phil and what he has to go through to attain his goal in the end. Within the constraints of a single day he learns important life lessons some people don t get to learn in an entire lifetime. How does he do this? He did it how all human beings have to do things to get results, through trial and error. He tried killing himself and that got him nowhere but right back in the bed waking up to the same song the next morning that he had woken up to the previous one. He tested the theory of misbehaving because he would never be around the next day to get in trouble but that got boring. He tried using gimmicks to win the love of that special women, after having slept with all the other ones, but that proved to be unrewarding because the next day he had to start all over again since she had no memory of the progress they d made the night before. Finally he decided to stop taking advantage of the situation and start helping people. He did endless good during his endless days and he found that giving is sometimes more rewarding than receiving. Phil found meaning and purpose the hard way like most people have to.
Perhaps the most inspirational film shown was the short, Buddhism, Man and Nature. It definitely made me think twice about the way I lead my life. The music metaphor rang true on so many levels. People walk through life with so many expectations. They try to find meaning in even the most meaningless thing. These people think that are certain things that are supposed to happen and certain things that aren t. Those are the people that don t see and are unable to appreciate how life is like music. It has no destination. The comparison still gives me chills. I honestly came home after class that day and listened to music in a way that I never had before. I found emerging new beauty in it. In the film, Alan Watts, the narrator, urges one to stop thinking because only then might one have something to think about. A perfect example is in that same phrase. If its overanalyzed its meaning will surely be lost, but stop thinking about it for a second and it will all come together clear as day.
So do our lives consist of merely a series of accidents or does destiny play a role? I think the truth can be found somewhere in the middle of the two. There s no reason purpose and meaning can t be found in an act of pure coincidence, or the other way around. Why do these have to be battling ideas? In my opinion life can be long, as it can also be short, both have their ramifications. Regardless, why waste it asking so many questions? People should sit back and enjoy life because the truth is some things in life happen by mere chance while some do seem to have some deeper hidden meaning. Nobody wants to believe that life is without meaning but people need to realize that not everything needs to mean something. It s okay if it doesn t; sometimes it might even be better that way.
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