I love to spot something spiritual in pop cultural. One of my favorite movies is Phenomenon, starring John Travolta, produced in 1996.
Everybody in the small town of Harmon knows George Malley as a nice guy, a good auto mechanic, and a dependable friend. But on his 37th birthday George begins to change. As a result of an extraordinary occurrence, George’s seemingly unremarkable life takes a mystifying and wonderous turn. George has a sudden insatiable appetite for learning, and begins to comprehend the beauty and intelligence of the universe. Suspicious about the new-found power of George’s mind, and apprehensive of the riddle he has become, George’s life-long friends begin to turn away from him. But with the love and support of the cautious, yet caring, Lace, George is able to see the larger picture of his place in the scheme of things, and to trust the remarkable path of his life.
Warning: If you have not seen the movie, I most highly recommend it. The rest of this journal entry contains a spoiler.
Near the end of the movie, George is diagnosed with a brain tumor with only a few days or weeks left to live. Following is the conversation he has with renowned neurologist Dr. Wellin (played by Richard Kiley, a narrator of many scientific/nature documentaries):
Doctor: I’m going to ask for your permission for my team to perform open brain surgery, but I do not want you to answer until we have had our dialog.
George: You said that this tumor was inoperable?
Doctor: I think the odds are very small, say one in five-hundred that we would be able to remove enough of the tumor to even prolong your life. What I want to explain is this would not be a life saving operation. This would be…let’s call it an expedition. This would be a voyage of discovery. You’re in a position to contribute as much to our knowledge as any man or woman who has come before you.
George: And if you were to wait and do this operation after I am done with my brain, what would that…?
Doctor: If that is what you want, yes, an autopsy is all we’ll do.
George: But that would not be as useful?
Doctor: Study of a living, active brain would tell us volumes.
George: Alright, so, if you were to do this operation, wouldn’t it most likely kill me or at least shorten my life?
Doctor: George, I’m asking you to try and see the larger picture, to realize what you have to offer to us, the ones you are leaving behind. You could be our greatest teacher, George. I can be your biographer in a sense. I could present you to the world.
George: That’s not me. That’s just my brain. Do you understand? Look Doctor, you know I may just have something to say in my last few hours. I might just have something to say.
What you are saying is that I have something to teach, and yet you’re willing to end me to study my brain under a microscope. Now, is that all I’m here for?
Doctor: What else? You’re not a scholar or a …
George: I’ll tell you what I am. I’ll tell you what I think I am…I’m what everybody can be.
Doctor: Everyone with a malignant, tentacle…
George: No. No, no. That just helped me to get here. Okay? Anybody can get here. I’m the possibility.
I think you have this desperate grasp on technology, and this grasp on science, and you don’t have a third hand left to grasp what is important.
If I had to choose between the tumor that got me here or some flash of light from an alien craft, I would choose the tumor. I would, because it is here. It’s within us. What I am talking about is the human spirit. That’s the challenge. That’s the voyage. That’s the expedition.