Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Life has to mean something

Watched 'About Schmidt', on a flight to Hong Kong yesterday, the 2002 Jack Nicholson film about a man who retires from his career as an Actuary. Soon his wife from a rather unfulfilling marriage dies, his daughter is getting married to a loser, he has nothing to do. He discovers his wife had an affair with his best friend that he never knew about, he visits his old firm and his old school, but they have moved on seamlessly without him. He tries to stop his daughter's wedding with no success. He travels across America in a Winnebago, visiting tacky places and making drab observations on them.
It is the story of a life lived without depth or significance. It is the story of a dawning realisation of the need for significance and meaning beyond survival and routine. At the end he says: 'We are all pretty small in the big scheme of things and I suppose the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference. But what difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me? I am weak and a failure. There's just no getting around it. Relatively soon I will die. Once I am dead and those who knew me are dead it will be as though I never really existed. What difference will my life have made? None that I can think of. None at all.' It is the saddest confession, the saddest story I have heard in a long time. Yet there is something strangely heroic about it. It takes courage to realise it, stare it in the face and say it. Not everyone can do that. That is repentance – the clarity of mind that sees our own emptiness and unimportance on our own. We cannot live without significance, without life meaning something. Warren Schmidt is Everyman, Mr Smith. Many are like him. Few get to the realisation he makes of the superficiality, the emptiness of lives lived without a broader purpose, without being part of a bigger story, a story in which they amount to something 'in the big scheme of things', God's scheme of things. To realise that is the beginning of wisdom. To do something about it is even better.


  1. Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing this. I hope someday to move from the beginning of wisdom, to the wisdom of sharing new beginnings. God bless!

  2. Thanks for that post, Graham. I have a discussion guide on the clip that you quote:

  3. Great post - who knew in-flight entertainment could bring about such meaning!


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