The Tree Of Life:
“And so man, as existing transcendence abounding in and surpassing toward possibilities, is a creature of distance. Only through the primordial distances he establishes toward all being in his transcendence does a true nearness to things flourish in him.” From Martin Heidegger’s “The Essence of Reasons.” Translated by Terrence Malick.
This video is my attempt to perhaps reignite my failed career as a film-maker. One might notice some affinity with the works of Terrence Malick, especially the provocative swaying of the grass moved by the invisible wind. I have 2 1/2 hrs more of this video footage but I think that this 12 seconds provides a good introduction. Let me add that this video is filmed at a job site where I am helping to build a new house and the view from this house is perhaps one of the best on the West coast. Of course the whole concept of a “view” is worthy of deep reflection (in between hammering, drilling, shoveling, etc.) and I think that “The Essence of Reasons” (as much as I understand it) speaks, in part, to these concepts and asks of us, ‘how do you see?’ ‘What is your view?’ Perhaps it would be helpful to engage some of these questions by adding some narration to this video? “The Tree of Life” begins with these words:
“The nuns taught us there were two ways through life - the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow. Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things. The nuns taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.”
I am not as eager to pose “nature” and “grace” as binaries as Malick’s narrator is (and parts of the bible, many fundamentalists, and maybe even Augustine/de Sade, or perhaps even Kit and Holly, the two mad serial killers in Malick’s earlier movie, “Badlands”). But that tree in my video, I want to believe that we behold each other and are pleased to do so, that is, if it is actually possible for a tree to behold in this way, in the Hebrew sense of the word “Hineni,” which has no reference to “seeing” but rather is a mutual presentation of ‘being here’ or ‘dasein’ if you will, but with a more Levinasian understanding of ‘being infinitely available to an-Other.‘ This is how Abraham in Genesis 22 at the binding of Isaac answers to the voice of God, he responds to God by saying,“hineni.”
And so the tree and I regard each other without any desire to lord over one another but only to be present to the grass, the sea, the wind and landscape. I find grace in that tree and I hope that it may find the same in me, in us. However, given our present circumstance, a pertinent question may be: is that tree the view or does it stand in the way of the view, of seeing? The property owners, the architect, the landscape designers have all been discussing whether the tree is blocking this panoramic vista and if it should be taken down. The excavator is on site and ready to push it over when a decision is made. My view is that the tree should stand and live, but of course no one asks me; I have no actual authority, no standing, but then neither does the tree I reckon. So I am praying for the tree and when I return later I will know what has been decided, whose view has prevailed. If the tree lives I will reckon it an event of grace, which is how I hope the tree will regard me.