The Film of Your Life

[July 1995]

I lay my head down on the soft pillow, shaken by the horror movie that my aunt just had uncle and me watch. She sure loves those horror films. I wonder why. They’re scary as hell and I’m never able to go to the bathroom at night by myself after watching one.

Uncle sees my unsettled demeanor, and sits on the bed, beside me.

“Hsuan-Fu — this is my Chinese name — do you want to hear a story?”

I nod, welcoming anything remedial and calming.

“Okay. Do you know what happens at the end of our life?”

“We die?”

“Yes, but do you know what happens when we die?”

I shake my head. He smiles understandingly.

“The moment before you die, your life flashes before your eyes, like a movie. Every scene, starting from when you were a little kid, like now, to when you’ve grown up to hang out with other teenagers, to when you are older and start working for a company, to when you get married and have your own children, to the day you retire, and finally till the moment you lie on your deathbed. Everything plays over like a movie, and you watch it, as an audience member, well, the only audience member, before your soul leaves your body. Then, your soul will wander for a while, before angels come get you, either to go to heaven, where you will stay, to enter the body of another newly born baby for a new life, or to go to hell, if you’ve been really bad in this life.”

“Really? What’s in heaven?”

“Well, heaven is a wonderful place. It’s completely peaceful. You walk around clouds, everyone there is kind and is happy to see you. If you want to eat a chocolate cake while in heaven, all you have to do is close your eyes, wish for a chocolate cake, and a piece will appear right there in front of you!”

“Wow…so cool…”

I drift off in tranquility into deep sleep.

[June 2017]

I love my uncle. I’ve never told him that, but my memory of him, the stories he’s told me since I was 5 (as above), and the lessons he continues to share with the world keep me inspired, happy, and optimistic. He’s not a typical human. At the tender age of 11, he was already different from all the other kids at school. Apparently, back in the 70s, when everyone else was out playing ball, reading comic books, he was reading Buddhist scripts and meditating. He had a natural affinity toward spirituality, and was 100% clear about the purpose of his brief time on this earth.

Without imposing religion on anyone (including myself), the point of the story up above about your life flashing by like a movie and heaven is not to convince you to seek or believe in Buddhism, or any other religion for that matter. Merely, I wanted to conduct a thought experiment. For a moment, let go of your beliefs and assumptions about the world and life. Just for a moment — bear with me. Right now, assume that that’s actually what will happen, the whole movie thing. Assume that when you’re about to die, at whatever age you’re at, you watch this entire film that is about your life, and see you everything you’ve done, everything that’s happened. What kind of movie would you want to watch? What would help you rest assured in peace? What would make you sad or feel regretful? Would you want to watch a film that’s like Pursuit of Happyness? Or like the Wolf of Wall Street? At the end of the day, life is really just like a film. There’s always a beginning, and there will always be an end.

I have to admit, today I was quite unhappy about something, something personal. There was so much rage and fury, so much anger, so much destructive energy inside of me that wanted out. My face was boiling red, ears fuming. I was on the verge of breaking something, smashing a cup or some other random stuff lying around the house. But I knew better, sat down, and took a deep breath. That’s when it struck me. I’m back in 1995, lying on that bed, with my uncle beside me.

“Hsuan-Fu, never forget that your life is just a film that you’ll watch at the end of it. What would you want to see? What would make you proud, fulfilled, and be at peace?”

I stared into the blurred distance, sipped some water, and calmed down.

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