How would you live your life if you knew when it would end?

As I methodically detailed to Tommy an arduous program of intensive chemotherapy with an uncertain future, he blurted out, “If I knew I’d be dead of cancer at 45, I’d have killed myself as a teen.”

I was shocked at his comment and it haunted me for some time. We all know we will eventually die, but we do not know when or how. Knowing that, is life still worth living?

Earlier this year, I viewed the Oscar-winning science fiction movie “Arrival” that shed light on Tommy’s intriguing conundrum. In what appears to be a flashback at the beginning of the movie, linguist expert Louise Banks is shown caring for her daughter who dies of cancer during adolescence. The scene then shifts to the arrival of 12 extraterrestrial spacecrafts.

Laura is summoned to decipher their language and discover why the aliens have come to Earth. While deciphering the unusual circular symbols, Laura has vivid dreams of herself and the whole childhood of her daughter.

The audience then discovers that Laura does not have a daughter. While communicating with the aliens, Laura is told that the dreams are not flashbacks but flash-forwards.

After the seeming threat of the aliens is resolved and they depart, a fellow scientist, who had worked with Laura on the deciphering project, professes his love for her.

At that point Laura must decide whether to allow the relationship to develop even though she knows that the daughter she would bear from this relationship will die in her teens. She also knows her husband will leave her when she tells him she has known all along the future of their daughter.

In the flash-forwards in the movie, we see the suffering Laura undergoes with her daughter as her daughter fights for her life, but we also see many delicious moments of love and tenderness Laura enjoys as her daughter is born and develops into a lovely young woman.

Was Laura right in accepting a life that results in the untimely death of her daughter?

To put the engrossing images of this movie in perspective, I sought wisdom in one of the biblical books written by King Solomon 3,000 years ago. Solomon had much to say about life and meaning in the book of Ecclesiastes.

In the third chapter he penned, “(God) has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:11-13).

By the end of the movie, Laura decides to live the life revealed in the flash-forwards. She knows there will be some very bad days but there will also be some very good days. Though she realizes she will never understand why and when many things happen, Laura grasps her new life.

We see early in the movie her new life is far richer than the lonely and narrow life Laura had before the events of the movie take place.

I wish the movie “Arrival” had been produced and released while Tommy was undergoing treatment. It would have offered a more vivid illustration of what his life was all about than the words I used to encourage him.

Though Tommy had a difficult course and lost his battle with leukemia within a year, he had enjoyed the blessings of a wonderful education and career, a loving and supportive wife, and three charming and intelligent daughters whom he was able to watch and participate in their lives as they grew into young adulthood.

If Tommy had taken his own life in his teens knowing his life would end in his 40s, he would have missed decades of joy, love and success.

It is best we do not know the times of our future distresses and inevitable death. Such knowledge would only cause daily anxiety and fear.

As Solomon continued in his book of wisdom, “I know that everything God does will endure forever: nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it” (Ecclesiastes 3: 14).

The future is in God’s hands. We cannot control it, but we can live each day the fullest, understanding there will be times of trial and loss.

Dr. Delvyn C. Case Jr. is a hematologist/oncologist, playwright and director, columnist and consultant to the department of spiritual care at Maine Medical Center in Portland.