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The Magnitude of All Things

"Every living thing is us."

The great thing about art is that two people can look at the same painting, watch the same film, or read the same book and walk away taking something totally different from it. It proves how art, unlike science, illuminates and celebrates different points of view. There is no wrong way to see art.

My husband and I ventured out for a rare date to the Vancouver International Film Festival, masks on our faces and vaccine passports in hand, to watch the film The Magnitude of All Things. What follows is a commentary, not a review, as I scribbled a few quotes in my book in the dark as I tried to focus on the film.

"We live in a society that rejects reality."

The movie is about the climate catastrophe and shows interviews with climate activists all over the world, from Ecuador to Sweden (yes, Greta Thunberg makes an appearance) to Australia to Labrador. My husband Mike found the film sobering. Despite some progressive pockets of climate activism, he doesn't see any the governments making meaningful policy change until it is too late.

I felt that too, and was thinking about our soon-to-be-born grandchild and her or his generation. It makes me sick how we've ruined the world with our greed and capitalism and left our children and grandchildren with this climate mess, which includes severe storms, droughts, wildfires, extreme heat and (I believe) the COVID-19 pandemic. The film points out how out of balance most humans are with nature.

"You have so much power to do the right thing, but why do you hesitate?

Everybody seems to have a different climate crisis opinion and I'm not here to convince you to think the way I do. I believe what I believe and you have your own beliefs too.

The Magnitude of All Things doesn't lean on data or anger towards the oil and gas companies. This film's fresh take is on the emotional and psychological effects of the climate emergency on the activists, and how grief comes into play in their work. I wept at the scenes of the activists being arrested at demonstrations, sniffling under my mask, having witnessed many arrests at anti-Trans Mountain Pipeline protests close to our home. People sacrificing themselves to be arrested is an admirable commitment to a cause.

I'm all about the feels, so I related to the activism theme of grief in the movie, which showed activists distraught at our future, but trying to find threads of hope too. There was a strong Indigenous voice in the movie about respecting and protecting the land and water:

"If this land hurts, we hurt."

There was commonalities between the climate activism and my own health care activism. I often feel like, 'what's the point?' pushing for a health care revolution that includes humanity for all, especially as I'm inching towards the publication of my new book. Some days it feels like me and a small group of outspoken colleagues are the only ones who care.

"How do we be open to the pain without crumbling to the ground?"

This film touched on grief and the feeling of hopelessness. One activist said that action only happens when you lose hope. That was interesting and it made me consider that perhaps losing hope is not necessarily a bad thing. A common refrain from the featured Extinction Rebellion activists is:

"Tell the truth."

We need to tell the truth in health care too, especially about this pandemic and the horrific consequences of COVID on people and their loved ones. The truth is where it starts. The activists talked about the importance of first recognizing what is happening to our world, again, eerily similar to those who who don't live in denial about the dangers of COVID and who advocate for COVID Zero:

"We live in a society that rejects reality."

Jennifer Abbott, who wrote, directed, co-produced, edited, sound designed and narrated the film, also told a parallel story about her sister Saille when Saille was dying of metastatic breast cancer. This rattled me, as I live in fear of my breast cancer recurring too. Her sister's sentiments were beautifully shared through letters she had written to loved ones. It reminded me of why it is so important to write down words. Saille felt more alive the closer she got to death. To me, her story was a reminder that we are all dying, adding a gentle Buddhist sentiment about the power of embracing the moment, as this very moment is all we've really got.

There was a lot for me to process in The Magnitude of All Things. A big take-away was that we must open our eyes and bear witness to what is happening to our Earth. One activist said:

"The action of trying to repair the land helps people repair themselves."

To me, this is a profound statement about any type of activism. Why do we even bother? I wonder how the world would change if every single person shook themselves out of complacency to speak up for what's right. For some people this might be organizing, for others demonstrating, being arrested or making a film. For me, what I do is use words to express stories about how experiences in health care feel to me.

The Magnitude of All Things ends with a young woman in Ecuador sharing her immense wisdom:

"We are all light in the end. We are not darkness."

Maybe that's what activism is after all: a belief that human beings are light. Perhaps through speaking our truth, we can steer ourselves away from the darkness.

Watch for The Magnitude of All Things coming to a film festival near you. Even better, ask your local independent cinema if they would consider bringing in the film.


Would you like to get notice of when my new book, Ducks in a Row: Health Care Reimagined is published in January 2022? Sign up for my email list here.

Duck Illustrations by Jacqueline Robins

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