Diane Ravitch Speech to AFT Convention, Detroit, July 28, 2012

My Speech to AFT Convention, Detroit, July 28, 2012.


Rewriting the NRA’s take on ’freedom’

Rewriting the NRA’s take on ’freedom’.

Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life

Possible spoilers if you have not seen the film.

Like many viewers, I had questions and some confusion. Then I read a few helpful reviews and went back over major images in the film. The creation, philosophical, and spiritual allusions were fairly clear before, but I hadn’t made the connections fully with the family until I read and thought.

I think for me the most powerful are the scenes of the dinosaurs, kitchen, and beach. In the first two, attempts to struggle are met with ‘stop’, and in both, the healthy dinosaur and the father become gentler. In the penultimate scene on the shore, the mother has stopped struggling with the pain and gained acceptance…grace.  The adult Jack, through the child still within him, is allowed to see this and perhaps now accepts that we can never understand why we suffer–like Job–but the struggle only drives us further into deeper pain. The beach scene takes us and I assume the souls he sees back to a majesty suggested by the water: both life and death but also return. These souls are at peace. The final Bridge scene perhaps represents the connections Jack now understands.

The film reminds me of  Wordsworth’s Great Ode, also a meditation on the mysteries, complexities, and anguish of our lives. He says we “come into the world trailing clouds of glory,” but living beats us down, and the glory fades. However, at the end of the poem, like the film, is the image of the shore lining a vast ocean. We stand on that shore waiting to return to our source. It is Romantic and Platonic. Wordsworth believed that Nature is the force ‘that rolls through all things”: we are connected by it. But life also brings us pain “too deep for tears”–like the loss of a child.

The answer to the question WHY may never be known, which makes us struggle even more. However, the film does not end on an existential note, but spiritual: “I give him to you.” That release brings peace that never existed before.  Is there more for us when we learn to bear pain and accept loss?  Is there a grace then granted, even an afterlife?  I don’t know. Struggle against pain is a normal and healthy response. But for how long?  Nature rather gently at last says ‘stop.’ Maybe we can’t, but if we do, perhaps the peace achieved brings us to that shoreline–where a grace exists we could not know before.

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