I’ve always wanted my life to be a movie. Maybe it’s why I enjoy listening to film scores so much. The instrumentals provide the backdrop, while I write the script. Music has such a power to wield our emotions and feelings. It often feeds our mood and reflects it. We all have our workout jams that quite literally move us. Y’all know a bumping mix of songs always made 6 am lifts in college a bit more enjoyable. I have this playlist on Spotify made up of almost all songs from film scores called “other worldly.” There is something magical about them. Something elevating. Often, when I am looking for some inspiration or depth, I go to this one.
Although, I have to say, it isn’t only the music I find running through my head anymore. I think I could probably write a whole letter comprised of solely quotes from movies. Honestly, I could probably write a whole letter of just The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I still remember watching the first Lord of the Rings with you, dad, the Fellowship. Every time the scene comes when Gandalf faces the beast in the Mines of Moria, I hear you exclaim his line as he raises his staff and strikes the bridge.
“YOUUUUU SHALL NOT PAAAAASS!”
You always nailed the tone and the timing of every word. I remember thinking you were the coolest.
It has always somewhat irritated me when Mom and I get to talking about you and, inevitably, she asks whether I can feel you with me. Feel your presence. I am glad she does, but I never really understood what she meant and, I guess, was frustrated because of not understanding and not feeling like I ever really had. Then comes the question, if she does, why don’t I? Did I not love you enough? Do I not miss you enough?
Then something occurred to me. Well, another scene from a movie, that is. See? There is a scene from a movie for everything. I imagine books are the same way for those very well read. Anyway, in “We Bought A Zoo,” the dad, Matt Damon (one of your favorite actors), is tucking his little girl in. The mom had died from cancer when she was very young. Matt Damon asks the little girl if she is having a hard time seeing her mom. She nods her head yes.
“You know what to do right? Catch her spirit.”
Watching the scene in Lord of the Rings, I catch your spirit. I can hear you delivering Gandalf’s one liner as if you were in the family room once more watching with me. Listening to the “Summer of ‘69’” and “American Girl” by Tom Petty, I catch your spirit. Sometimes looking at Adam and observing his mannerisms, I catch your spirit.
I am not sure if this is what Mom means or feels herself, but I may understand a bit more how something not here, can, indeed, be here. I think it is called peace, and the more we believe the things we can’t see, hear or feel are just hiding within the things we can, the more we have of it.
In The Chronicles of Narnia (movie #3 if you’re counting), when Lucy enters Narnia through the wardrobe, she comes across a single lamppost in the middle of the woods. This is where she meets Mr. Tumnus, and it becomes a sort of marker for the doorway between the two worlds. While living in the infamous house on Greene Avenue my last two years of undergrad, I would go for walks in the neighborhood across the street because all the houses were so unique. From one to the next, I would travel space and time from civil war colonial style to desert adobe to fantasy cottage in the woods. The cottage was my favorite, not only because it appealed to my desire to be off the grid living in the woods, but in the front yard, it had almost an identical lamppost to the one in Narnia. I took the same route every morning, so I would pass this house. I imagined I was entering another world when I passed by, sometimes for an escape and others for an adventure. It became a reminder of the doorway everything in this world is. Things are, indeed, almost always not only what they seem.
“The present moment is always full of infinite treasure. It contains far more than you can possibly grasp. Faith is the measure of its riches; what you find in the present moment is according to the measure of your faith.
Love also is the measure: the more the heart loves, the more it rejoices in what God provides. The will of God presents itself at each moment like an immense ocean that the desire of your heart cannot empty; yet you will drink from that ocean according to your faith and love.” Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence]
Faith and love allow us to get the most life out of each moment, which is where true life can only be found. They also allow immense hope. For what can be more comforting than knowing regardless of what we see, hear or feel in this world, there is always, always, goodness. It strikes through like lightening from some place outside of the world, or within it. For me, the lamppost is a reminder of this truth. It allows me to catch the spirit of the moment. I would also add to Father’s brilliant description of the fullness of the moment that the imagination aids faith tremendously. Imagination gets me to even consider something as mundane and regular as a lamppost can be much like the instrumentals found in film scores, other worldly. A lamppost can be a reminder there is always hope to be had and goodness to be found.
In a truly breathtaking scene in the ending of the second Lord of the Rings, Frodo is on the verge of handing over the ring to the enemy, and Sam stops him just before. Frodo’s spirit is broken. He confesses to Sam he cannot do this, cannot bear the burden of the ring.
“I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. Sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it is only a passing thing, this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come and when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories has lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept goin, because they were holding onto somethin…”
“What are we holding onto Sam?”
“That there is some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fightin for.”
Covid is our current shadow, but as wars, diseases, terrors and destructions before it, it is only a passing thing. We occupy this world as enemy-occupied territory. Sometimes it seems after a triumph of light over one shadow, the enemy just pulls another one over us. Fighting for goodness and hope is exhausting. Often, our spirits are broken because we don’t see how the end could be happy. In the struggle and pain and darkness, when it becomes hard to see any light at all, we have only to catch its spirit. We have only to be reminded by our Sams, if we have one, that there still is goodness. And if we do not happen to have a Sam, then we have only to be reminded by a lamppost or the beautiful melody of a song. Little doorways to the hope and goodness we can hold onto. The world may not go back to the way it was. Maybe it cannot, but the sun will still shine out the clearer.
The truth is these reminders and doorways are abundantly available to us. Just as Sam speaks of the great tales, the ones that really mattered, these stories tell of my story and your story. In The Alchemist (it had to be, couldn’t talk about the extraordinary found in the ordinary without it), Santiago tries to read the Englishman’s books and realizes they are quite strange. They assert one proposition above all, “all things are the manifestation of one thing only.” In alchemy, the most important text consists of only a few lines “once etched on the surface of an emerald.” This leaves Santiago wondering, “why do people need to read so many big books?”
In one way or another, all the stories we read and movies we watch tell of the same thing. Some tell of it better than others, and some we remember more than others. Some may speak more and make more of an impression on you than they do me. Same with those that make more of an impression on me. Some we do not understand fully, but they still stay with us.
I don’t fully understand why you had to suffer so much, dad. Why you had to go before so much life was still to be lived. I don’t understand why disease and destruction ravage and plunder our hearts and souls and bodies. I don’t understand why we hurt and have ill-will toward each other. I don’t understand why some seem to have it so good and others so bad. I don’t understand why some have suffered so gravely at the hands of Covid and why some have been spared. I wish it did not have to be this way.
“I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” [Frodo]
“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.” [Gandalf]
We are in the midst, and in the midst, it is rather hard to see quite clearly at all and to not wish none of it had happened. This, especially, is why the small reminders matter. The smallest hints of goodness and hope may be all we have to hold onto. And they tell us something. That there are other forces in the world besides the will of evil. They tell us the King has already landed. This is the One story all the rest tell of. The One that really matters. The true King, rightful Heir, has already landed in the world. And He is on the move. Not in the way we think a King might move. Not sweeping in and conquering all before Him, though He most certainly could. Maybe more so in the way winter turns to spring. An underground movement, where ordinary things hide the extraordinary. Where a lamppost is a doorway. After all, things are almost always not only what they seem.
I think, then, my life can be a movie. Hopefully, it can be one of the great tales. The ones that really matter, not because of any heroics of my own. But because it tells of the One story. It serves as a lamppost or a song or a Sam, reminding others the King has already landed and one day, the darkness will pass for good, and the Son will shine out the clearest.
PS- Some may say all the stories are made up, the One story is made up. Well, I would much rather believe in the made-up things than the real things then. [C.S. Lewis]