A few days ago, my wife and I took in the Life of Pi. I went in to watching the movie with some reservations, as I am first and foremost a reader, so I am usually disappointed with the movie adaptations. I am also a notorious movie snob, to the detriment of my enjoyment, and to the patience of friends and family who must endure my overly critical commentary. I was heavily mistaken in this case however, as Life of Pi was one of the best films that I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Although this post is not a movie review, I have to give praise to Yann Martel for writing a truly engaging and spellbinding book, and applaud Ang Lee for a beautiful interpretation of it for the big screen. I also offer that if you have not watched it, this may contain minor spoilers.
Perhaps one of the reasons that I enjoyed the movie so much beyond the fact that I found the novel to be thought-provoking, is that I identify strongly with the character. I feel no shame in the fact that I had to hold back tears in the movie theater. So many powerful moments stunningly depicted, all striking home. Now that doesn’t mean that I’ve ever been in a shipwreck, unless you count the time that I sank a canoe at the cottage. No, I haven’t been adrift in the Pacific ocean in a life boat with nothing for company but a sea-sick tiger. But the Life of Pi was a story about symbolism, wasn’t it? In that, I can honestly say that I am Piscine Molitor Patel.
I could talk about how he was teased by students, how he questioned everything his parents told him, how he looked for more out of life than what was placed in front of him. But those are matters mostly of my deep past, and when the past calls, it usually doesn’t have anything new to say. What I identify with is his journey.
Because I’ve spent time adrift at sea. I’ve been surrounded with emptiness, and struggled to come to grips with it.
I’ve hung suspended underwater, watching my ship sink, and wondered whether or not breathing in the water would be preferable to fighting my way to the life boat.
But continue on I did. Continue on I must. For as Pi discovered, despite losing what he thought was his all, life remained worth fighting for. Against the sea, against the storm, and against the tiger. I had my own tiger to fight. It stalked me relentlessly. It consumed every moment of my time and energy for over a year and a half, and only got more hungry and ferocious as time passed. I speak of course, of my daughter’s mental illness. I know it would seem to be more appropriate to call that her tiger, and not mine. But to her, it was the hyena. Craven, brutish, tearing at her. For me, it was the tiger. It was the insurmountable creature that forced me to fight back, from a tiny raft. Surrounded by sharks and uncertainty, storms and fear. I tried the ferocious approach, I tried to fight the Hyena off, and make the tiger cower.
I tried to reason with it, blow the whistle softly or loudly depending on the situation, tried even to make the tigers presence a normal part of life adrift. This is where the story differs. Pi fought the tiger and won. I fought it and lost. And I watched my ship sink after my time in the lifeboat, instead of the other way around. But oh, the things that Pi endured, that feel so much like my story.
Terrible loss. Immobilizing fear. Moments of hope dashed by deeper moments of hopelessness as the boat drifted further and further. Feelings of despair, tossed by the waves, which showed no care or mercy. I too, have thrown my hands up and screamed to the universe “you’ve taken everything, what more do you want!”
And now I find myself at the end of my time in the lifeboat. Just like Pi, trying to recover from a harrowing journey, and not knowing exactly how to do it. Convalescing in a hospital, with nothing but vivid memories of shipwreck and loss. And as strange as it seems, a sense of loss of the tiger as well. Because you see, when my daughter left us, the tiger left us too. And as I also lie exhausted on the beach, I realize that the tiger, for all the pain it caused, for the terror it inspired, also left me without looking back. Without ceremony or farewell.
The thing that was the sole focus of my life, my fears for so long, was gone in to the forest. And I was spent. I am sure that Pi missed his family terribly, as I miss my child. But in a strange way, we both miss the tiger. The creature that gave us purpose to fight.
I am Pi.