Wenders: Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire)

For my money, one of the most thrilling moments in cinema is in Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire, when Bruno Ganz’s character (an angel) becomes mortal. The black and white film shifts into color, he finds himself on the edges of the Berlin Wall. He puts a hand to his head — blood. It’s invigorating; how overjoyed he is to experience the sensation of a small wound to his head. The joy on his face is contagious when he says, to no one in particular, “Let’s go” and walks into his new, human life.


In Buddhism, the notion of precious human life means that, as humans, we have the highest potential to realize the Dharma in our lifetimes. Our brains are more advanced than animals. While there are higher realms of existence in Buddhism, the anger of the demi-god realm and the attachment of the god realm are hindrances to enlightenment. Similarly in Wings of Desire, the angels that watch over the human realm aren’t able to experience the minutiae of human life. We see Bruno Ganz’s character clinging to the notion of, “Why am I here and not there?”


Suffering, therefore, is in some ways one-size-fits-all. And as humans, we can really take this notion apart, examine it in relationship to our own passion, aggression, and ignorance. And while this human life often seems impossibly hard, we are also unfathomably lucky: As the Buddha once said, we could imagine that the earth were completely covered in water. And in this global ocean is a single blind turtle swimming around, bobbing its head up once every 100 years. Supposing a yoke with a single hole was tossed into this ocean, it’s more likely that this blind turtle would come up through the hole than it is for us to be born into the human realm.

So, despite all reason to do the contrary, let’s rejoice in that.


Today’s Contemplation

As you go through your day today, whether it’s buying coffee or dealing with a difficult work project, can you step back for a moment and remember the preciousness of this human life? How fortunate you are to be spending your time reading this post while doing everything else you have to be doing? How does that shift the way you approach your normal routines?