The Needle and the Damage Done

philip seymour hoffmanLast week, I wrote about cancer and the diagnosis that my mom had received 3 years ago which led to her death 6 months later (read the post here).  Cancer hits everyone and knows no boundaries, but people don’t choose to have cancer.  On the other hand, drugs and drug abuse know no boundaries.  They will impact the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the black or white or yellow or brown, even the unborn can be impacted when their mothers are drug abusers.

Yesterday, Hollywood was dealt a heavy blow when Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his apartment of an alleged drug overdose.  When he failed to show for an appointment with his children, friends of his went to his apartment, only to find him on the floor of his bathroom, allegedly with a needle in his arm and bags of heroine in his apartment.  At 46 years old, his career was full of all kinds of films.

Among those films, I recall seeing him for the first time on the big screen in “Scent of a Woman.”  Over the years, he has been in some of my favorite movies.  He seemed to have been a regular in the films of P.T. Anderson, of which my favorite was “Magnolia.”  His character, a male nurse attending to a man dying of cancer, held such an incredible amount of sensitivity, vulnerability, and kindness.  Although the part seemed small in comparison to those of other actors within the same film, he managed to hold his own among the like of Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, and many others.

Hoffman had been nominated for the Academy’s Best Supporting Actor 3 times and was nominated and won Best Actor in 2005 with the film “Capote.”  By all rights, he could have been called a successful actor…..

Yet, what effect did that success have on him?  While he may have been considered successful, could he have been considered content?  Joyful?  Happy?

What drives a person to find solace, comfort, significance, and meaning at the end of a needle?  How long do those things last when they are provided by such a fleeting and temporal solution?

Solomon, the wisest man in the Bible, wrote these words in Ecclesiastes 2, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;  I refused my heart no pleasure.  My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.   Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”  The wisest man, and one of the richest too, did not deny himself anything and all that he found was meaninglessness.

When things like this happen, it’s a chance to reflect, a chance to contemplate what is most important in my life.  It’s a centering moment that helps bring poignancy into a potentially complacent life.  Where does one find hope even when they have been “successful” in the eyes of the world?  Every path, every attempt will lead to disappointment.

Later on in Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes, “For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?”  And even later, as he comes to the conclusion, he writes, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

Many have lived and died before me, but few have had the wisdom of Solomon.  His words are to be taken to heart.  If we follow other paths, we will find that the endings are surely disappointments.  But what about the path that leads to life?

Success can only carry us so far, but we will eventually need something more.  Where will we find it?  When we do, how lasting will it be?

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