Ida and Darwin
One of the films that I have watched in recent years that made a profound impact on me is Ida, a Polish film from 2013. It is about an orphaned teenage girl who is about to take her vows to become a Catholic nun. Before she does so, she is given the opportunity to travel with her aunt. As a novitiate, during most of the film she is dressed as a nun. She and her aunt travel around various villages in Poland. In one place, she meets a young man. At first it is a unique eye-contact that is made. In successive scenes, the serious-looking young nun first cracks a smile; then later her hair is down; then later she emerges in a dress. A relationship develops with the man, all of which is strikingly new for the young orphaned novitiate. At one point, when they are together, Ida asks him, “Now what do we do?” To which he replies, and I paraphrase, “Get married, have kids, get a little house… You know, life.” The next scene is Ida returning to the convent and taking her vows. Evidently, the man’s answer was not good enough for her. Why?
Ida looks ahead and all she can see is cooking, cleaning, looking after children, and buying things she needs for the house – none of which are usually exhilarating dreams for a young person. Of course having a stable and loving home environment is one of life’s greatest blessings, one which Ida did not herself know and enjoy. But still, the prospect is not appealing to her, as well as to many. I suspect this is because in all people, though certainly in some more than in others, there resides a thirst for adventure, for the new and different, for the challenging. And when not given the opportunity to live out those dreams, life begins to feel monotonous and boring; or, perhaps worse, when the future does not appear to hold those opportunities, the present becomes dull because the future is certain to be dull. This is a sad situation.
A couple of weeks ago my parents were outside gardening, and I, convinced they would only be a few minutes longer at the task, decided to spend a couple of minutes watching some trailers for movies and documentaries. It turns out that they were outside for over 45 minutes, which meant I spent much longer watching trailers than I had planned, and became irritated by this supposed waste of time. But it just so happens that almost all the trailers I watched were of people performing exhilarating deeds. One was of Alex Honnold, the man who free soloed El Capitan, the 900-meter vertical rock face in Yosemite, which has been hailed as one of the greatest athletic achievements of all time. Another was of Tracy Edwards, who, at 24 years of age, created and led the first all-female crew in a sailing competition covering 33,000 miles. More recently, many of us probably watched the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, a truly astonishing sight. I kept on thinking what it would feel like to sit where astronauts Bob and Doug were, and feel the massive acceleration of such a beast.
Moving away from the screen, I am currently enjoying large swaths of my days reading “The Voyage of the Beagle,” Charles Darwin’s account of his journeys, astonishingly, began when he was only 22 years old. The travel diary is filled with fascinating accounts of various wild animals which once populated South America, of encounters with fierce Indians, of the strange sounds one hears when camping under the stars, of pristine and rugged mountain-peaks. It is impossible that Ida had in the back of her mind such adventures as lived by Honnold, Edwards, the astronauts, and Darwin. But surely she had an instinct that whispered to her, “There is more to life than this,” when the man painted the picture of what their life together could look like.
Who has not read the stories of the wandering patriarchs and been filled with a desire to roam the land like a nomad and build a fire every night outside the tent? Who has not read of the conquests of David and longed to take up a sword or a bow-and-arrow and achieve something tangible? Who has not read of Jesus and His disciples, as well as of the early Church, journeying by foot and by ship, preaching the Gospel to people of all manner of cultures and customs, and not longed to do the same?
The Christian life is not incompatible with excitement and adventure. But perhaps we need to make a bold decision. I speak now especially to those who, like me, are young: if you feel a passion for travel, a desire to explore the unknown, a curiosity which goes beyond pictures in a textbook, maybe you may ask the Lord to give you work that incorporates these elements. As the most obvious example, remember that there are still many lands who need a missionary. Can you go? I am sure there are other ways to live for the Lord and enjoy the thrill that is life, but I will leave it to your imagination to think of those.