“I don’t know why we live…”


Al Pacino’s net worth is $185 million. This film, Stand Up Guys, was released Friday December 14th, the same day as the Newtown Shooting.

As far as myself and many others, the most important question in our lives is, How do we go on living after what we experience, endure, and know? A few statements have stayed with me over the past days—thoughts full of words that suffocate the spirit and also gain more glory every time I read them. Neither quote is certifiably true, nor can either be proven false. More biblical, as so many seem to have to be at a time like this; they bear witness. The first is from French filmmaker Robert Bresson:

I think in the whole world things are going very badly. People are becoming more and more materialistic and cruel, but cruel in another way than in the Middle Ages. Cruel by laziness, by indifference, egotism, because they think only about themselves and not at all about what is happening around them, so that they let everything grow ugly, stupid. They are all interested in money only. Money is becoming something you must live for.

–          interview with Paul Schrader, 1976

The second is from a Henry James letter to a grieving friend:

I don’t know why we live—the gift of life comes to us from I don’t know what source or for what purpose; but I believe we can go on living for the reason that (always of course up to a certain point) life is the most valuable thing we know anything about…

–          1883

Coupled with this, as I walked around on Friday to stop my mind, it struck me: We live in a culture where we don’t value human life. A quite extraordinary idea. Certainly we value the beginning and end, but what goes on in the middle isn’t always so examined, depending on our position in society. Can we be so selective about what is important? Do we understand that “life is the most valuable thing we know?” In some years on this earth I’ve come across many people who have directly stated their beliefs to me: “Other people aren’t my problem.” “I have my own life to worry about.” “I don’t have time for this.” I’m still in a suspended conversation with them, though they are not there. I’ve said these same things myself, so I can only imagine others being suspended, waiting for me.

            Yesterday, I asked a relative to never show their hunting rifles to two little boys (also relatives) who have developed a fascination with guns and always ask about them.