Thin Places, Terrence Malick and Birthdays after Death

  • Family

I awoke this morning and thought of Terrence Malick’s film Tree of Life. The film divides its attention between the childhood and adulthood of the main character, Jack. It verges into sentimentality as Jack remembers the past, but due to the violent nature of his father, it never embraces the sentimental. Instead, imagery both complicated and nostalgic is invoked. Jack touches these memories as an adult. How does he reconcile both who he is with who he was? What’s made him who he is in this moment?

The movie came to me as I thought about my mom and dad. It’s my birthday today. My dad has been dead for thirty-five years. My mom died two-and-a-half years ago. Thinking of the wonder and excitement I felt when my children were born, it felt like I could sense my parents as they were on this day, years ago, when I was born. Young, healthy versions of themselves as they rushed to the hospital. Did they drop my older brothers off at our Great Aunt and Uncle’s? I thought of thin places where the walls between our reality and the spiritual are less firm. It was like the evocative imagery and movement of Malick’s film was filled with my imaginings of my parents.

There they were in all their grace and beauty. There I was, new to the world. And here I am now. Somehow I’m in both places. Witnessing what was while reconciling where we are now. Making sense of their deaths and the ways in which life continues. Re-experiencing the births of my daughters as I remember how my mom always called me on my birthday, told me the story of my birth.

I was supposed to be born on Christmas Day. The sound of her voice traveling hundreds of miles over fiber-optic cable. It was like you just didn’t want to come. And, she’d laugh. Finally, at dinnertime, you were born. Her smile at this point stays with me, it was transmitted through sound and now through time. She’s sitting at her desk in Michigan with a cat purring nearby. She’s off to the hospital awaiting her child. She’s singing Happy Birthday. Her voice fills my mind.

 

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