Ikiru (To Live)
In an indirect way, Akira Kurosawa's brilliant film 'Ikiru' is responsible for my work with NEHM. When I first saw Ikiru (meaning 'To Live') I was working in state government for a very worthy program for at-risk parents of infants. Over time, I became frustrated and disillusioned by the sheer effort it took to accomplish the smallest of tasks due to government bureaucracy.
It was at this point that I first viewed Ikiru during a Kurosawa film festival. It was an odd choice for the festival, tucked among a marathon of samurai films such as Throne of Blood and Seven Samurai. Ikiru depicts a Japanese bureaucrat whose only job is to stamp papers to prove he's handled them while also making sure nothing gets done. He has worked 30 years without missing a single day of work. Discovering he has stomach cancer, he realizes he has wasted his life. His attempts to fill his final days with nightclubs and girls leave him feeling as empty as his meaningless work. His only hope to redeem himself is to use his work to effect a permanent change somehow. A group of women are attempting to build a park where an industrial wasteland currently stands.
I sat in that darkened theater watching the film's protagonist Watanabe sob himself to sleep after realizing he had wasted his life shuffling papers. In the coming weeks and months I would think often of his despair as I struggled to deal with my own daily setbacks with bureaucracy. I resolved to change my life, to find fulfilling work that allowed me to make a difference at a level I could experience directly. Shortly after, I was called to NEHM by a friend who felt this was a place where I could contribute to a worthwhile organization. I discovered that not only had I found fulfilling work, but I had also found a faith community after being separated from organized religion for several years.
Roger Ebert said "I think this is one of the few movies that might actually be able to inspire someone to lead their life a little differently... Over the years I have seen "Ikiru " every five years or so, and each time it has moved me, and made me think. And the older I get, the less Watanabe seems like a pathetic old man, and the more he seems like every one of us."
Ebert's certainly right about Ikiru inspiring me. Seeing this film again, I am reminded of how easy it is to become dominated by routine, to focus on making sure the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed, regardless of whether or not it matters. Ikiru pleads with us to develop a sense of urgency, to not waste another moment as we move ever closer to the end of our time here on earth. Ikiru asks us to live an intentional life.
As we look ahead to 2010 and the optimism of a new year, this message has particular resonance. It is good to be reminded of the need for focus and urgency. I hope to utilize this in my own daily life, both personally and with NEHM. How can you employ this sense of urgency to make the most of 2010 in your ministry? Your family? Your spiritual life?
Matthew Ellis serves as executive director of National Episcopal Health Ministries (NEHM).