My Van is Gone: How Brad Pitt Will Help Me Graduate from College
-a guest post by Sam Schnake
The other day I said my final farewell to one of my best friends. At 9:15am (mountain time) on April 19th, 2013 Shadowfax Chevy-Astro Van the 95th was towed away to be turned into scrap. A kindly man with an impressive beard drove off with my friend after giving me $50 cash, and I almost cried right there in front of him. I’ve spent countless hours with Shadowfax. I was his driver for the last 6 years, but he has been part of the family for 18. He was the one who took me on my first solo drive the day I got my license. He was the one who carried me home countless times—out of the harsh winters of the Alberta prairies, over the great Rocky Mountains, across the barren eastern Washington desert, through the windy I-84 corridor, past the bustling metropolis of Portland, and up the unnecessarily steep hill of Mary’s River Estates. Shadowfax was a dear friend of mine and now he is gone.
I’m going home again soon and because of that I’ve been thinking a lot about finiteness. There’s a line I really like from a movie I really like, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The lead actor Brad Pitt is gazing at Cate Blanchett intently and lovingly when she asks what he’s thinking. He responds by saying, “I was just thinking about how nothing lasts . . . .” While smiling and comfortably shifting closer to her on the bed, he adds, “and what a shame that is.” This scene expresses the movie’s theme. Another character —Pitt’s outspoken, southern, black mom—gets at the same idea from a different angle with her short catch phrase, “you never know what’s comin’ for ya.” The finite and chaotic nature of things leads to uncertainty. And that in turn scares most of us so much that we are inclined to either get violent or disengage.
I don’t like letting go of things. It’s uncomfortable and hard and it hurts. I don’t like it. My van sat out on the side of the road for months before I finally made the call to have him towed away. I keep my boxer-shorts until they are so tattered that I might as well be going commando. When I go to a party I’m usually one the last people to leave. As my college graduation approaches I find myself day-dreaming about ways I could hold on to what I’ve had these last four years. That’s surprising because not too long ago I wanted more than anything just to be done. But the scene I described from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is beautiful because even though the main character is very aware of the finite and chaotic nature of things, he, unlike most people, doesn’t seem to be afraid. Instead of fighting or fleeing he remains present and enjoys the moment with the women he loves.
Graduation is a sort of death, but it’s also a beautiful time of celebration. Family and friends come from far and near to acknowledge a significant accomplishment of someone they care about. There’s formality and tradition—we all wear black like we’re in a funeral—as well as an air of energy and newness. Graduates introduce their parents to friends and teachers that have been part of this season of their lives. People eat food, throw parties, and take far too many pictures. If we’re lucky the sun is even out and the grass is green. So may we steep ourselves in these final moments, smiling to each other because, “nothing lasts . . . and what a shame that is.” But now that my van is gone I can be more motivated to ride my bike. Now that I’m graduating I’ll be free to do all sorts of other interesting things. Death is the prerequisite for eternity. Also, thank God for endings because they give us a good excuse to party with all we’ve got left.