Me Before You or You Before Me?

Having completed my internship with Engineering Ministries International in Uganda, I plan to keep this blog going, continuing to be a place I share my thoughts, experiences, and faith, but also using it to speak out on important issues and to share or process thoughts. I hope my writing provokes thought and feeling, but more than anything I want everyone reading this to know that everything I write comes from a place of love. Really and truly.

I actually wrote this post over a month ago now, but haven’t made the time to mold it into a cohesive whole until now.

Last month, I watched the film “Me Before You”, starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, and after reading the book a couple of weeks later, by Jojo Moyes, I have done a lot of thinking about it, its characters, and the beautiful, complex, and occasionally disturbing and heartbreaking messages it communicates. I both loved and hated the story.

As I mentioned, I’ve been working on this post for several weeks now, before I started the book, in the effort to try and communicate my thoughts clearly and kindly, while keeping an open mind and being respectful of the many different viewpoints around these topics. I’m glad I read the book before posting this. Unsurprisingly, the characters are better developed and the novel gives more insight into, and information about, quadraplegics, their caregivers and loved ones, assisted-suicide, euthanasia and the complexities around all of those things.

All of us have pain in our lives. We all know suffering, to varying degrees of course, but a person cannot go through life without pain and hardship. Each of us has a cross, some obvious and visible, some hidden and silent, none less real than another. As a Catholic Christian, I know I was never promised peace and joy in this life, those things can of course be found, but not without the burden of our cross. For those of us who are Christian, we know this. We know that just over 2000 years ago a man loved us so much that he came to suffer and die for each and every one of us, so that we might live, and in doing so guaranteed for all eternity our eternal and everlasting joy, should we choose it. He warned us that this life would be difficult, but not to despair because he conquered suffering and death forever.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

But for those who are not Christian, it is often much more difficult to grasp the purpose of suffering. I know there are countless different systems of belief in the world, and many of them try to tackle the problem of human suffering, but for me, none of it made any sense until I began to dig into my Catholic faith for answers. Without Christ and his Passion, no suffering really makes sense to me. There is just no way to justify any of it, so of course we should try to avoid it at all costs, even if that means death. Why wouldn’t we, if it has no purpose?

Something that was stressed so much throughout this whole film was the right to choose. “It’s his choice”, was spoken multiple times over the course of the story in reference to Will. Of course they’re right, we all have the right to choose. Our free will gives us choices, always, whether they be insignificant or life-altering. It us up to us. That does not, however, mean that we should encourage others in all their choices if we know what they’re choosing will hurt them and hurt others.

Every single choice in our life matters. We have no idea what part we are meant to play in this great story, but each of us does play a part, an important part. Our lives have meaning, we have meaning, and we have purpose. You have dignity and worth, no matter what state your mind or body might be in simply because of who you are. Not for all the things you can do or the things you’ve done, but for you. Just you. You are inherently valuable no matter who you are, where you come from, or what you do with your life. You were made in the image of God, who actually loved you so much that he became human for you, to be able to fully understand your suffering. Physical, mental, emotional, he knows it all, and what hurts you hurts him. Never doubt that he understands your pain. Apart from him, suffering is meaningless, but when we choose to unite our suffering with the Passion of Christ, it has the power to redeem. I know many do not believe in redemptive suffering, and I am truly sorry for that, but it is real. I have lived it and I have seen it.

There was a blog posted on Salt + Light several weeks ago that discussed this film as well and there was a particular line that stated an often overlooked truth, which you’ll find below.

“In the case of medically assisted dying, it affects not just your loved ones, but your doctor and the whole medical system and the legal system too. No act is really ever a completely autonomous act because we are not completely autonomous. We are relational.”
– Deacon Pedro (Salt + Light Media)

In this particular story, it is obvious that Will’s choice affects the people in his life, especially his parents and Lou. Lou’s love throughout the film is a selfless love. It’s beautiful. She is a servant, for her family and for Will, something we are all called to be. She constantly puts others before herself. Seeing the way she puts everything aside to love him in the best way she can is inspiring. She sets a powerful example. She fell in love with Will after his accident, when he couldn’t see anything lovable about himself anymore, when he believed that anything special or valuable about him had been taken away. I wouldn’t say she “sees past” his disability because that disability makes him the man she loves, and she loves all of him, even in his weakness.

Will inspires me in many ways as well, not as much in the movie, but definitely in the book, however, he also breaks my heart. He fails to see all that life still has to offer, and is unable to put the will of others before himself. I know he believes that he, those who love him, and really the rest of the world as a whole, are better off without him. That is tragic because it is such a lie. He is not simply a burden on society who should be disposed of or dispose of himself so that others are free from service. We are called to service. Saying service isn’t always easy is an understatement, but it’s what we are called to do, to lay down our lives for others. The greatest human who ever lived came as a servant; he healed, he listened, he washed feet, he died, all in service. When sacrificial service is freely given it is the greatest and most powerful form of love.

I have a very deep-seated belief that all human beings are inherently good, and were not born wanting to inflict pain on others or on ourselves.

We were each given free will and we always have a choice; a choice that should never be taken away from us ragardless of how others may feel about it, or whether we ourselves know that our choice breaks a moral law. I have chosen things that I know are bad for me more than once in my life, making decisions knowing their negative consequences and choosing them anyway, because I can be single-minded in my pursuit of happiness or peace, outweighing the temporary for the eternal. Sometimes I wish someone had been there to stop my actions, because I was only causing myself (and sometimes others) harm, but then would I have stopped the next time? Probably not. It needed to be my own will, my own desire to choose what is right or good. We were all given choice, not because we deserve it or are entitled to it, but because our Maker chose to make it that way, for better or for worse.

At one point near the end of the story, Will says to Lou that she is not enough, that her love for him is not enough for him to live for. He’s right, it isn’t. Sometimes our love for people or their love for us is just not enough to keep us here. When we have reached the point when we honestly do not believe we can ever feel true happiness again, when we are in such despair that for us life has truly lost its joy, how do we find the will to live? If there is nothing beyond this life, nothing greater than this, then what is the point, especially when we are forced to endure such incredible suffering or to watch those we love endure pain we can hardly imagine? There has to be something more, something greater, calling us to life. Without Christ, no suffering makes sense. It is meaningless. If I did not have my faith, I probably wouldn’t be here. I honestly don’t know how people without any faith in something greater than this realm can endure the pain in this world, can bear suffering, and still find the will to get out of bed every day.

To tell my story is to tell of Christ, so please, even if you don’t share any of my beliefs, just hear me out for a minute. In the moments when I have been in the deepest pits of depression, when I was truly unable to see even the opening at the end of the tunnel, I really didn’t see the point of any of it, of all of this. For me, it was not until my faith became real to me again, when I actually heard the truth Christ was speaking to me, and listened to loved ones reminding me of His truth, that I was pulled out of that place, that I was able to find joy and purpose and passion again.

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” – Isaiah 49:15-16

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”
– Jeremiah 31:1

“…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior... Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.” – Isaiah 43:1-4

I have much to live for now, but without Him, and the people who love me, in that long dark season, I truly don’t know if I would’ve been able to escape the grips of depression. It is so overwhelming, so suffocating and dominant, whether it creeps up slowly or suddenly consumes you.

Will too suffered from depression, because of his pain, his injuries and illnesses, his lack of freedom, and the life he lost. “That there was no evidence of mental illness”, which the author writes in some of the last pages of the novel’s text, referring to Will, is completely untrue. Depression is a mental illness. When someone decides to take their own life, assisted or not, as a result of depression (I’m not discussing any other potential reasons/causes of suicide here), it is not because they are unbelievably selfish, as many seem to think, and even I once thought. It’s not that it is not a selfish act, maybe it is, but that doesn’t mean that the victims of depression and suicide are selfish people. They are suffering from an illness that is beyond their control. We can’t just “snap out of it” or “think/look on the bright side”. The thing is, we can’t even see a bright side anymore.  Depression is a horrible, debilitating illness, and often a silent killer.

In the darkest moments, we can’t see past the bleakness, the numbness, the despair. For me, it was like the world had drained of colour, without even the vibrance and contrast of true black or white, just grey. It felt like losing everything and gaining nothing. It was a suffocating loneliness, believing if I talked to anyone about what was going on, I would simply become a burden. I hate being a burden, or inconveniencing people. I know I’m not alone in that. Will didn’t like it either, constantly needing people waiting on him night and day, but more than anything, he hated having his freedom taken away. I can only imagine what it would be like not to be able to move, to eat, even to go to the bathroom without someone else’s help. I hard as I might try, I cannot truly understand what that is like. I see the reasoning behind his decision. In the book he even says it, “this is the first thing I’ve been in control of since the accident”. Having freedom taken from you is a horrible experience, especially in such a violent and abrupt manor, but does it really mean we should stop fighting, trying to regain some of what we’ve lost, adjusting to a new reality? Our life does still have meaning, even if it’s not the life we ever would have wanted.

The ending is what ruins the entire story for me. The whole thing has such a pro-life message, with everyone fighting to inspire Will to live, until the very end. Imagine how powerful, how truly brave and inspiring it would have been had that final scene been different. Imagine if Will had made a different choice, if he had been sitting next to Lou in Paris, enjoying that coffee and warm crousiant, and saying those words in person. He gives her a beautiful and wonderful piece of advice, but completely fails to follow it himself. To me, it seems somewhat ironic that the hashtag coined for the story is #liveboldly.

This story is a powerful one. The acting is excellent, the film is beautiful, and the novel deeply thought-provoking, but sadly, no matter what the author or actors or media might say, it ends in tragedy. Choosing death, in this way, is not a happy ending.

My hope, is that it will encourage deep thought, spark conversation. All human life has dignity and worth, no matter the state it may be in. We were never meant to walk this journey alone, but we were given the gift of free will and therefore the choice of what to do with ourselves, who to spend time with, where to go, even whether to live, is our own. We cannot force others to do or believe what we know to be true or right. We can repremand people for doing wrong, committing crime, and contradicting moral law, and we can try until our dying breath to convince those we love, and really everyone we encounter, of truth, particularly as Christians, however they will always have their own free will and I think we need to remember that, as much as it might break our hearts, and might force us to have to go up against the decisions of those we love the most. When those we love are hurting, in pain, struggling to find joy or meaning in anything, it will always be their choice, in the end, how to deal with and react to their situation, but through it all we must lift them up, fight for them while they cannot fight themselves, and sometimes even fight against them for their good. We must love them, in the best way we know how.

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