Faith Before Me: Why Life Is Always Worth Living

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), “Christ on the Cross”
Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), “Christ on the Cross” (photo: Public Domain)

On Friday, June 10, I went to the 2:15 show of the new romantic drama Me Before You.  I already knew the story: a wealthy, young British banker becomes a quadriplegic after a traffic accident. But I didn’t expect to tear up as I watched the opening scene. The GQ type Will Traynor puts on a crisp gray suit, kisses his beautiful girlfriend goodbye, and leaves his luxurious urban apartment to conquer the world.  “Don’t walk out that door, man,” I thought, knowing on a visceral level what was about to happen. Exactly six years ago today, on the morning of June 13, 2010, I left my apartment to conquer the world and, like Will, suffered a spinal cord injury that left me, a dancer on a performing arts scholarship, paralyzed from the waist down.

The film fast forwards to Will two years post-injury.  He has put every effort into physical therapy but has only gained movement in a couple of fingers. He is angry and bitter and his parents hire a local young woman named Lou to spend time with him. A Beauty-and-the Beast story unfolds as Will is rude to her at first, but Lou perseveres and eventually they fall in love. As soon as you think they’re about to live happily ever after, Lou discovers that Will has been planning to end his life with the help of a Swiss assisted-suicide agency called, ironically, Dignitas.

I struggled for weeks and months in therapy as well and, miraculously, learned to walk with the help of leg braces. But I remember clearly the pain and terror I felt as I lay in my hospital bed, completely unable to move the lower half my body. Still to this day I cannot run and jump and dance like I used to.

So why have I not circled the drain? Why have I, who lost my life’s passion, dancing, not just checked out like Will? He admits that the happiest time of his life was with Lou, but he finally confesses to her that he still plans to end his life, that nothing could change his mind. He doesn’t want to remain in such pain, he doesn’t want Lou to be deprived of all the things that a physically healthy man can give her, and he doesn’t want his parents to be taking care of him in their old age when he should be taking care of his parents. Even after Lou’s desperate protests, he decides to go through with the suicide. You know the saying “He who dies with the most toys wins”? The most horrifying aspect of this story is that it simply follows the philosophy of our secularized culture to its logical conclusion: He who loses the most toys, dies.

Secularism is nothing other than an institutionalized (and sometimes codified) manifestation of the lie in the Garden of Eden, that God is a threat to human flourishing. Therefore, God must be segregated to the peripheries of our common life (if He is to be anywhere at all). Joining this rejection of God is the belief that the tangible goods of this world – pleasure, power, fame, fortune – are all we need for happiness.

So, when I say that the movie Me Before You simply follows the philosophy of our secular culture to its logical conclusion, I mean that, in a secularist worldview, when the goods that man hopes to attain are taken away and he is left with no hope of possessing them again, he simply ceases to have a reason to exist.

After my injury, by the grace of God, I learned very quickly how foolish it is to put your stock, your sense of identity and worth, in the goods of this world because, in a leap, a crash, a blink, they can all be taken away from you. And not only that, they don’t fill the heart’s deepest longing anyway. We were made for the infinite, but so often we try to pull infinite satisfaction out of finite things. That’s why I cringed when Lou, sitting on Will’s lap begging him to change his mind, pleads, “I can make you happy.” I immediately sighed, “No, you can’t.”

Having someone who loves you and wants to dedicate their life to you is a wonderful thing, one of life’s greatest goods, but it can’t satisfy the soul’s deepest longing. A common mantra of many well-intentioned activists for the disabled sends a bleak message: make the most of the goods of this world you are able to attain; hang on to what you have!  But those who have suffered a great loss instinctively know on what precarious ground they stand. How can I put my faith in something that may yet be taken away from me? The answer is, we are not meant to find our ultimate satisfaction and security in creation; we are meant to find rest in our Creator. As I watched Will angrily, hopelessly stare into the vacuous space that secularism had created in his life, it saddened me to see him remain ignorant that what was keeping him from fullness of life was not quadriplegia, but his lack of openness to the Author of Life.

Will leaves Lou with a bank account full of money she can use to pursue her dreams and “live life to the full.” The final scene shows Lou in Paris. There are people out there who think this is a happy ending; that Will’s suicide, and those like him who are disabled, or infirm, is bearable as long as it’s lucrative.  Interesting how his name is “Will.”

So, how did I keep from sinking down? Why am I not huddled in a corner binge drinking, speed dialing the assisted suicide hotline? Because in the ocean of God’s mercy I found the pearl of great price—the sanctifying grace of the Sacraments made accessible through His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I have found a peace and joy I never knew before, and one that I know can never, ever be taken away from me.

You have made us for yourself, oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. St. Augustine

This essay originally appeared at Southern Papist. Reprinted with permission.