February 6, 2016. Janelle’s Birthday, Red, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and My Impact in the World. Today my oldest granddaughter Janelle turned twenty—two decades! When I was twenty, I went back to Holland to rediscover my past and my future (see my post of January 28, Rootless No More). So I thought about “the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.” Last night, I went to see the play Red by John Logan at Theatre Aquarius in downtown Hamilton. I read the review “Red: It’s about more than art,” by Gary Smith in the Hamilton Spectator (The Spec) and decided to go because he said that this play “makes you question why we’re here.”
As we engage the play, we witness the anguish of the artist Mark Rothko as he harangues and rails at his assistant, an artist-wannabe. Rothko is painting a set of canvases for a trendy and expensive new Four Seasons restaurant in New York and getting paid handsomely for it. But he is fearful for the future. Will his paintings still move the viewers when he’s gone, or will rich people buy a painting because it “goes with their couch”? Will they think about his art in the restaurant or use its presence as an affirmation of their own riches and importance and snobbishness? Has he as an artist sold out as Picasso did, signing menus in restaurants, and as Warhol did painting soup cans? Will future artists sniff at his kind of abstract impressionist art? Will his “red” be eventually swallowed up by his “black”? The play did what Gary Smith said it would: it made me look inside myself to see what I’m living for. Well, I’m not living for the kind of fame or recognition that Picasso got. No-one has yet asked me for my signature (if want it, bring your own pen) nor am I producing art to make a deep impression. But I do want a legacy, the kind that Jesus told us we should be working for: Don’t store up treasures for yourself on earth but in heaven, for where your treasure is, there will be your heart. You could turn that around and say that “where your heart is, there is your treasure.” My heart—totally, I pray—is set on God and then on my family, wife, children, grandchildren and with all the other roots and branches. Daily faithfulness in our ongoing relationships and tasks is what we need; daily faithfulness in the small ordinary stuff of every day.
But what we do daily is really part of something bigger (see my summary of February 3, “The Last Word on Politics”). That’s what I took from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This past week, I watched both the 1981 BBC version (194 minutes) and the 2005 Touchstone-Disney version (109 minutes). I read the book years ago. A very ordinary British man, Arthur Dent, lies down in front of a bulldozer to save his house from being razed to the ground to build an expressway. His friend Ford Prefect comes to take him to the pub while the bulldozer crew’s foreman takes his place on the ground. Fortunately, Ford Prefect is not really British; he is actually an alien from the vicinity of Betelgeuse and has been pretending to be an out-of-work actor. Ford has come to save Arthur from the destruction of earth that is to happen in about twelve minutes because someone in the galaxy—who turns out to be Zaphod Beeblebrox—has ordered the destruction of earth’s galaxy for the building of a hyperspace express route. Arthur and Ford hitch a ride on a Volgon spaceship and travel throughout the universe using the Hitchhiker’s Guide and a Babelfish in their ears that automatically translates all brain waves it gets into human language. They have a snack in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe as they search for “the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.” They finally hear this question asked of the smartest computer ever built. After thinking for seven million years, the computer tells them the answer is 42. When they want to know what the question really meant, the computer confesses it does not know but will construct an even smarter computer that will figure out the answer. They visit the computer-building workshop and see planets under construction. At the end of their journey, they find themselves on this new planet and discover that it is the reconstructed earth—given a second chance, as I see it, to figure out the meaning of life and the meaning of our own lives.
What do I take from all of this? I need to use the wisdom God has given me and the rest of his people to figure out what the real question is and what the right answer is. As Ecclesiastes puts it, “Of making many books and movies there is no end, and it can weary your body and your soul. But here is the conclusion of the whole matter: Honour God and do his will, which is to love God and love your neighbours; that is what it means to be human.”
Shape your thoughts and your deeds by that invitation and experience joy!