For most of humanity’s existence, we have lived in very small worlds. People were born, raised, and died in their same communities. Very few were exposed to ideas and opinions outside of their small worlds. And if they did, they weren’t so completely different from what they already understood. Starting with foreign travel in the 1200’s and writings from people like Marco Polo, things began to shift.
As the first tendrils of modernity reached out making travel and communication easier, a steady trickle, then a flood, of new ideas were exposed to the world. This all came to a head with the invention of the internet which makes a multitude of ideas available at any time. This influx of knowledge has shown us how very small we are in the bigness of our world and even our universe.
And even that is being challenged with speculations of multi-verses. How do we find meaning when the world is so big, and we are so insignificant?
Multiverse in the Movies
This year two movies premiered that address the concept of multiverses: Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. Of the two, the marvel movie is much more well-known and follows our hero Dr. Strange as he travels across the multiverse. One of the opening scenes shows Dr. Strange at the wedding of his previous romantic partner, Christine. During a conversation with him, she asks him if he’s happy, and he replies yes. However, it is not convincing. Running alongside the main storyline of Dr. Strange trying to protect America from the Scarlet Witch is subtler storyline. It’s a story of those seeking happiness by seeking out the ones they love in other universes. Despite the “madness” of multiple dimensions, some as abstract as geometric shapes, the one motivating force is that of love both romantic and familial.
This theme is also echoed in the film Everything, Everywhere, All at Once featuring actors like Jamie Lee Curtis and Michelle Yeoh. In this film, Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) is living an unhappy life with her husband and daughter. On this particular day that they are preparing for a party, Evelyn is caring for her elderly father who disowned her for marrying her husband Waymond. In addition to this stress, they have issues with the IRS and must go to their office. While there, Waymond’s mind is replaced with a Waymond from a different universe. He explains over a series of scenes that Evelyn is the only one who can stop Joby Tupaki, a villain who has created a device to destroy the world. The problem is that this Joby Tupaki is actually her daughter Joy in a different universe. In the alpha universe (who first found out how to contact other universes using their minds), Evelyn pushes Joy too hard in stretching herself across the universe until Joy lives in every version of herself in every universe at the same time. This gives her unimaginable power, but it also causes her to find all of life meaningless. Evelyn is tasked with destroying her, but she refuses and instead tries to save her daughter.
In her attempt to do this, Evelyn stretches her own mind until she too experiences everything at the same time like her daughter. In a moment of despair, she too finds life meaningless. Back in her original timeline where she is having a party and dealing with the IRS, she ignores an important moment and acts irrationally, throwing a chair through the glass window instead of dealing with the IRS agent. Her daughter looks on knowingly believing she too will feel the same as her. However, in this moment, Evelyn observes her husband Waymond talking to the IRS agent who then decides to give them some grace despite her behavior. Evelyn’s eyes are opened to who Waymond is and how he handles things and people with love and consideration. She then has a newfound appreciation for who he is. Later, when she is trying to stop her daughter from entering the “donut” (the device she created to end her life, not others’ lives), she decides to do things Waymond’s way instead of hers.
Though the current life she is living is the one she is the least successful in, she looks back over her life and it’s moments of joy and love and decides to focus on these. She shares her thoughts with Joy letting her know she won’t try to stop her, but she urges her to see that the small moments in life and the people we love are what bring meaning to life. Evelyn’s epiphany comes when she stops trying to control those she loves, appreciates them for who they are, and stops judging her own life. In other words, life can have profound meaning when we focus in on the ones we love and the moments that bring us happiness and hope.
Meaning in Relationships
When our worlds were small it was easy to find meaning in it. We could judge ourselves by a small list of criteria or to others to see if we were successful. We could easily see God’s story in the world around us. However, the bigger it has gotten, the harder it is to see where we fit and even God’s story seems lost in the possibilities. In both of these films, the answer to this internal crisis is love itself. This idea is consistent with the way God designed us. We were meant to live in small communities and family units where we are loved and where we can feel a sense of belonging. The problem is that not everyone has this. In fact, adding to today’s issues is the fact that people have had to seek belonging outside of the family unit because it has become so dysfunctional.
And even in the most functional families, most of us still need something larger to hold onto. Relationships are important and are the glue to the world, but they aren’t enough. If we can’t see ourselves in relation to the larger universe in any way that makes sense, then we are left with a sense of living in microcosmic universes that only has meaning inside themselves. For many, that is deeply unsatisfying.
Finding Meaning in Inward and Outward
It is in the balance of upward and outward that I find my place and bearings in a world that doesn’t always make sense.
It is for this reason that people will never cease having beliefs in supernatural beings and meanings. Without it, we are tetherless—living our lives in tiny capsules of life disconnected to the larger picture of life. My belief in God is what grounds me and attaches me firmly to this universe, however large it might be. In a relationship with him, I can look outside of myself and my relationships, but I can also look deeper within. I can embrace both concepts—the larger world of universes too vast for me to comprehend and the smaller world inside of me and the relationships I get to experience. It is in the balance of upward and outward that I find my place and bearings in a world that doesn’t always make sense. My meaning in the multiverse is helping me extend beyond my own personal happiness, freeing me to love larger than I normally would.