A Countdown for the Holidays

The Wisdom of Pinhead: Part Four
“He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake …”*

Last year for Christmas, I blogged about my favourite part of Hellraiser V: Inferno.  I talked about how Pinhead’s dark, scary message was really a cautionary Christmas tale – avoid superficiality and selfishness and embrace what really matters, or, you know, pay horribly forever.  I realized afterward that Pinhead has always had some very Christmas-y things to say … when seen in the right light.  So this year, I will be presenting a Pinhead-Christmas-personal empowerment-happy-joy-countdown.  At the end of it, I hope readers – Christian and non-Christian alike – are more disposed to find the love and joy the Christmas holiday represents.

And maybe they’ll want to watch the movies too.

Kirsty Cotton: I’ve come for my father!
[the Cenobites laugh at that]
Pinhead: But he is in his own Hell, child, and quite unreachable.
Kirsty Cotton: I don’t believe you!
Pinhead: But it’s true. He is in his own Hell, just as you are in yours.

Only in life can we suffer; after our death, our troubles are over, as they say.  But this doesn’t mean that life is only suffering – quite the opposite: life is also beautiful and wondrous and good.  In this quote, Pinhead reveals that his “Hell” is for the living, that his “clients” choose consciously to open the box while alive, and bring Hell upon themselves with their own actions and desires … and after they’re dead, they will be as far from Pinhead’s reach as all those who avoided the box and its delights entirely.

What does this mean for you and me?  It means that we make our hells for ourselves.  It means that we really don’t know what happens after we’re dead, until we die.  It means that, just as life can be suffering, it can also be joy, or despair, or loss, or bliss – and that, far more than we usually realize, what life is for each of us is under our own control.

It also means that, whether we like it or not, whether we believe or not, whatever thing we may believe in, absolutely none of us knows – really knows – what’s waiting for us after that last breath.  Some of us have glimpses, some of us see wonders that give us some comfort, but in the end, even Hell doesn’t know what happens.  In the end, we’ll just have to accept that death is a mystery … because if we don’t, that lingering fear of death and its uncertainty will turn us into little, stressed-out globules of anger who are always quarreling with one another to distract ourselves from our own worry.

Kind of like the way we already do it.

So maybe for the holidays – or all year round, if we feel we’re up to it – we can reorganize some of our burdens.  We can agree to be in charge of our own lives here – to accept the consequences of our actions, to recognize that so very often we make our own pain and suffering.  We can stop wasting our living moments searching for death, and instead allow whatever god may exist to be in charge of the afterlife.  We can stop creating Hell on earth in all manner of creative ways, and instead let Pinhead be in charge of Hell.

He seems to doing a much fairer job of it than we do.

* “Santa Claus is comin’ to town” by Coots and Gillespie

The Thing I Like About …

Awake (2007, Hayden Christiansen): the part where his mother lights her cigarette.

Awake follows a young man’s attempt to get a heart transplant before his own heart stops working.  His mother (played by Lena Olin) wants him to consult her own physician – the best heart surgeon in the country – but Clay (Christiansen) wants his friend Dr. Harper to be his surgeon, and he places his trust in Dr. Harper.

Of course, things go horribly wrong.

Clay is prepped for the transplant, and is given anesthesia; he then experiences anesthesia-awareness, a lovely little complication wherein he is fully aware of what’s happening to him during surgery but is helpless to move or communicate to the surgeons – the surgeons who cut into his chest and pull out his heart.

Ouch.

Clay begins to wander through his memories in an attempt to retreat from the pain of the ongoing operation.  Things have all sincerely gone horribly wrong, and he is in fact dying.  This is represented, as he walks “home” in his imagination, by each street light going out consecutively, leaving a growing trail of darkness behind him.  He goes into his “house”, where the lamps also go out one by one, as well as the fire in the fireplace.  He makes his way upstairs and lies down wearily on his bed, and the bedside lamp goes out too. He’s in pitch black now, and we know that it’s because his body (and his spirit) are very nearly dead.  He’s very nearly dead.

And then his mother lights her cigarette.

She’s sitting by him in his imagination-bedroom, and smoking a cigarette, and she’s telling him how much she loves him, and how proud she is of him, and how wonderful he is, and how strong.  She’s telling him how gladly she would die for him, how she would give him her own heart, because that’s what mothers do.  She lights her cigarette, and it’s the only light in the room, and Clay follows it out of his imagination-house, out to where he can wake up and be alive again.  He uses her little light to light all the other lights.

Her little light saves his life.

We’ve all been in darkness, both real and metaphorical.  We’ve all waited and hoped to see that little light.  We’ve all clung to it with every ounce of strength.  Yet we’re sure that our own contributions are small, that we’re not important or strong or good enough, that what we have to offer isn’t worth anything.  We don’t think we can really heal or fix or help.

But in the pitch-black, one little light makes all the difference in the world.

The Thing I Like About …

Highlander:  the part where Heather grows old while Connor stays young.

Highlander is the story of a man who is apparently immortal – forever young and mostly unkillable.  He is driven from his village, because for some reason, villagers are afraid of neighbours that never age and never die.  He makes his way to a remote part of the highlands, and he lives there with the love of his life, Heather, a lovely young woman who accepts his … condition.

She grows older, and older, and is eventually old, and eventually dies, and when she asks him on her deathbed why he stayed with her, he says that he loves her as much that day as he did the day he met her.  And for centuries after she’s gone, he never loves another.

People want to live forever.  We want to stay young forever.  The vampire trend isn’t for no reason.  We fear aging and we fear death, and we think we want to be like Connor … except that our loved ones – our spouses, parents, siblings, friends, children – will all die around us.  So, if that’s the deal, then we actually don’t want to take that deal.  Maybe we don’t want to live forever after all, if our loved ones can’t live forever with us.

It turns out we don’t fear aging and we don’t fear death.  We fear loss.  We fear losing our hearts and our happiness and our loved ones.  And it turns out that living forever didn’t keep Connor from losing all of those things … in fact, it made it harder because he had so much more time to mourn.  It turns out that we all just want a life filled with what Heather and Connor had – a love that transcends the changes around us, that withstands time and tide, that looks past physical beauty and infirmity and sees only the beautiful parts inside.

It turns out that we fear dying alone … and the answer to that fear is to love one another as much at the end as we do in the beginning.

The Thing I Like About …

Groundhog Day: the part where he keeps trying to save the guy who dies.

Phil is a reporter sent to cover the groundhog seeing his shadow on Groundhog’s Day.  For some reason, he enters a time loop and relives the same day over again .. and over and over and over again.  He starts trying to make small changes – to himself, of course, but also to the old man who dies in the gutter at the end of that day.

He tries to save him every day.  He tries CPR.  He tries encountering him earlier in the day, getting him a hot meal and some warm clothes.  He tries everything he knows how to do, but no matter what, the old man dies at the end of the day.

For me, this is the turning point for Phil, more so even than the meaningful connections he makes that eventually break the time loop.  He has to accept that he cares – something he had not been able to do before – and he has to accept that, no matter what he does or how hard he tries, he can’t control everything.  Not even an important thing.  The most important thing in this world – whether we’re dead or alive – is actually entirely and completely beyond Phil’s ability to change by even a moment.

In the film, Phil has to grieve for the old man; he has to come to terms with his “failure” to save him.  But actually, he learned the one thing that was stymying him when he arrived in Punxsutawney, and the thing that tends to stymie all of us:  whether the old man lives or dies is irrelevant.  It’s not the saving of the old man that Phil was being asked to do.  He was being asked to care.  He was being asked to involve himself with another human being, and to help make that person’s life as happy as possible while he’s on this planet.  Maybe the old man died anyway, but Phil had turned what could have been a sad ending in a cold gutter into an evening with a new friend, a full tummy and a warm bed.  Basically, Phil didn’t fail at all.

We all die.  What matters isn’t that we die, but what we do before we die.  Who have we fed?  Who have we clothed?  Who have we befriended?  Who have we loved?  Did we make the people in the world happier with our actions, or not?  Who did we hold, and who’s holding us?  Phil needed to learn to see the world from this perspective, and so do we, I think … but unlike Phil, we only have the one chance at it.  Let’s not mess it up.

Bit O’Blog

The Eleventh Hour

My friend Bob used to work as a cleaner for (furnished) university apartments.  One day, after a tenant left for “medical reasons,” Bob was sent in to clean up, particularly the couch – one arm of the couch was completely, extraordinarily drenched in blood.  The blood had settled deep into the material, but Bob set about pulling it up with the extractor … over and over and over again, for hours.

He said that the experience filled him with great hope.  As you might imagine, I asked him why.

He explained that the “medical reasons” were that the tenant had tried to commit suicide.  He had entered a hole of darkness and despair, alone in his living room with seemingly insurmountable pain, and he had slashed his wrists.  But in truly the eleventh hour, when so much blood had come out of him that it was a wonder he was still breathing, he decided he wanted to live.  He called 911.  He pressed his wrists into the arm of the couch to stop the bleeding.  He waited with all of his weight pressed onto his arms and onto the arm of the couch, until paramedics came and saved him.

Bob saw hope not just because the man lived; he saw hope because the man decided to live – that in the darkest moment, when all seemed desolate and pointless, he found a light to follow.  Bob saw the hope there, the second chance, the course correction.  He saw the struggle to climb out of despair, the success achieved when failure seemed certain.  He saw this amidst all that blood, and it gave him hope that the challenges and obstacles we face are surmountable, no matter how bleak they may seem.

And he kept pulling up the blood with the extractor, until the water ran clear.