Last night, at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center, I saw the theatrical premiere of Indestructible. Not only did this documentary make my heart bigger, it also showed me the three secrets to being immortal. Before I share them with you, please read the director’s statement, quoted from Indestructible’s website:
“In September of 2002, at 31 years of age, I was diagnosed with ALS, a neuro-degenerative disease that kills 90% of its victims within five years. At the time, I was working as a playwright and actor in Chicago, running a painting company and changing my son’s diapers. Nine months later I began to make a documentary film chronicling my new life, not one I had chosen and unlike anything I ever could have imagined. Traveling by myself and then with a small crew we filmed the isolated world of ALS; interviewing patients and their families, medical professionals, scientists, religious figures and almost anyone we could find. I wanted to know (perhaps naively), “What does it all mean?”
Indestructible is an attempt to understand and accept the reality of a mysterious and deadly disease that has brought science to its knees, an illness that is a paradigm for life’s ultimate challenges. My personal story in the film, and that of every ALS patient, follows this frightening path into an uncertain future. To show the broad and difficult landscape of medicine for ALS, or lack thereof, we have documented mainstream approaches, controversial stem cell surgeries, Chinese herbal treatments, vitamin supplements, vibrating beds, Yoga, and almost anything that might stop the progression of this horrific killer.
My initial purpose in making this film was to share the extraordinary moments, both dark and light, of a life with ALS, and there are many. I now believe Indestructible will be a catalyst, and mark a turning point for the millions who have and will suffer the wrath of this elusive beast, bringing us one step closer to what every sick person wants – a cure. Indestructiblehas at times provided answers to my questions, if only momentarily, and they are no substitute for my health. In the meantime, I will continue to search. When we unlock the secrets of ALS we will better understand not only neuro-degeneration, but also aging, environment, psychology, spirituality, and what it truly means to be both alive and facing mortality every day.”
1. The first secret to becoming immortal is to give up your desire to be immortal. Longing for immortality burns up your energy, uselessly, because it makes you chase a vain and shallow impossibility you can never catch (think: dog’s tail). The same senseless chase also keeps you from developing fully, so you end up pursuing frivolous goals… and immortality is the exact opposite of frivolity. Accepting the fact that you will come to an end gives you a dose of humility and puts your ego in check. It is ironic, but humility makes more room for greatness than egomania.
2. The second secret to becoming immortal is to wildly and fearlessly explore The Thing that has attached itself to you in a life-altering way. For some The Thing is an affliction of some kind. For others, The Thing is an untiring fascination with something in particular. And for many more, The Thing is a restless yearning or reaching for something beyond one’s ordinariness. A thirst for life that is Fuller, Deeper, Wider, Bolder, Cleaner, Simpler, Saner, Kinder, Juicier, etc. These Things (a.k.a. mission, obsession, burden, etc.) that make themselves unmistakably known to you must be investigated… with the passion of a lover, the discipline of an athlete, the curiosity of a scientist and the technique of a detective. Unturn every stone. Be unreasonably determined to know the Essence of your life-altering thing. The unfolding process may take years. Your ability to understand what the heck unfolded may take even longer. But there’s no need to feel rushed about it, because this is the whole purpose of breath and blood and bones anyway… it is to figure out your piece of the puzzle, and then to…
3. The third and final secret to becoming immortal is to share what you found with others. When you give yourself to the task of figuring out your piece of the puzzle, you come across valuable insights and experiences that will make another person’s life better. So, it is your responsibility to be very attentive to your discoveries, and then to be very generous with them. That’s what Ben did with his documentary. And it’s why he is immortal.
You and I can do the same.