It is a well-known and well-documented fact that Terrence Malick is my absolute favorite filmmaker. I wrote three different papers for three different classes as an undergraduate on his films. I saw The Tree of Life a total of four times in theatres. I hunted down Malick’s translation of Heidegger’s The Essence of Reasons at my school’s library.
Malick’s 2005 film The New World is a retelling of the Captain John Smith-Pocahontas narrative that depicts the paradise of the new world and its eventual destruction by English settlers. The film contains long shots of unspoiled earth, showcasing the lush canopy layers of verdant trees and the rippling of life-sustaining waters, all backlit by bursts of radiant sunlight. These images of natural splendor portray a sense of innocence. The unblemished landscape of the new world is corrupted by the arrival of the English settlers. The film transitions from a depiction of natural beauty to a picture of absolute desolation and destruction, as disease spreads, supplies run short, and disciplined order gives way to disarray.
In one particular scene in the wake of the catastrophic winter following the settlers’ arrival, Pocahontas, now renamed Rebecca and baptized into English religion and civil society, proclaims through voiceover, “I will find joy in all I see.” That insight is crucial: Pocahontas has chosen willingly, despite losing her love, Captain Smith, her family, and her culture. Though her entire way of life has seemingly unravelled before her eyes, she retains agency, and the choice of joy, of hope, remains.
Too often in 2013, I allowed anxiety and disappointment to linger and to overshadow what ought to be celebrated. Rather than joyously celebrate the occasion of my graduation (with honors, at that), or my acceptance to law school, or the job offers I received, I constantly second-guessed the decisions I had made. I asked “What if?” incessantly and had difficulty moving on when things didn’t go as expected. I found myself comparing my success to the success of others. I felt as though I needed to compete to prove my self-worth.
It’s tempting to ignore the beauty of the everyday, especially when schedules become habitual and routines become monotonous. It’s much easier to focus on what’s imperfect rather than what is good.
And so, for 2014, I want to find joy daily. I want to celebrate what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and gracious.
And thankfully, Pope Francis, in his wisdom, has had quite a few things to say about joy lately. “We Christians are not so accustomed to speak of joy, of happiness; I think often we prefer to complain,” he said back in May. And before that, he declared, “Joy is something deeper, it is a gift. It is a virtue of the great, of those great ones who rise above the little things in life, above human pettiness.”
Here’s to finding joy in all things, and here’s to making 2014 count!