Noodles of Wisdom
“Yesterday's the past, tomorrow's the future, but today is a gift. That's why it's called the present.” This oft-quoted wisdom from Bil Keane, creator of the newspaper comic The Family Circus, has gained popularity for its appearance in the 2008 movie Kung Fu Panda, retold by a wise soothsaying tortoise. I watched this movie for the first time yesterday, and less than one hour later, a drunk driver struck a tree right outside where I was. The movie and the accident didn’t seem relatable at the time, but they are.
After calling 911 and rushing over to see if we could provide any help until the paramedics' arrival, my boyfriend and I watched as two young adults were pulled from the wreckage, injured but alive. The car had been driving without its headlights and speeding down a four-lane avenue, its occupants obviously intoxicated. Had the car swerved the other direction, it would've crashed into my boyfriend's apartment. Had the car swerved one second later, it would've struck a pedestrian walking his dog.
As we stood there, mystified by the fragility of life, a paramedic motioned for me to come help him tend to the injured passenger. I held a bag of intravenous fluid while the paramedic inserted the IV line into the passenger’s arm. Staring down at the unconscious young man, some unusual emotions welled.
I got angry. I was maddened by the driver’s disregard for life; the conscious decision to drink, drive, and endanger others. Just the day before, I crossed paths with five charter buses from the Make-A-Wish Foundation who had brought children with life-threatening medical conditions to WrestleMania and then to the Dallas World Aquarium. The driver and passenger were given a gift that those Make-A-Wish children were not: the gift of an otherwise healthy and able life. Some people would love to have the “ordinary” existence we often take for granted.
We take it for granted because we see our lives as something we deserve, something to which we are entitled. But, how do we deserve our health while others have not; how do we deserve to be born in stability while others have not; how do we deserve to be given opportunities while others have not? Through no fault of our own, these are questions that rarely cross our minds.
“We are not born having done anything to deserve advantages as rewards.”1 But, we can still “do justice to them;” we can earn these advantages. To use another movie as an example, a beloved professor of mine at Baylor University would reference the final scenes of Saving Private Ryan. Captain Miller, Tom Hanks, gives a dying instruction to Private Ryan, Matt Damon, uttering the simple words: “earn this.” My professor would say that our education was a gift we should work to earn through our future endeavors.
That’s the mentality we should take with our lives in general. We’ve done nothing to deserve the state into which we were born, but we can make an effort to earn the advantages we may have. Some people prefer to call these things “blessings,” but I don’t. The “blessings” we are given are more like advances on a paycheck that must be earned through future work. We earn our good fortune by pursuing justice and equal opportunity for all, so that the less fortunate are not eternally shackled to their mire.
We all have our struggles—some are just bigger than others. Even still, if we see the "gift" of our present lives as something to be earned rather than something deserved, we may discover a way to live fuller, with a greater sense of purpose.