Why I Believe In Santa …

I read the news; I’ve studied history. I see everywhere all the terrible ways people treat one another … how they’ve always treated one another. It’s in our nature as predators to kill the things that scare us. It’s in our nature to be violent. But no other predator questions its own actions and inclinations the way humans do. No other animal works so diligently to become something different from its earliest design. When the holiday season rolls around, people of many different faiths work extra special hard to spread love, kindness and understanding. We consider our good fortune, and give willingly of ourselves with no thought of recompense. We become better people, if only for a month, or a week, or a day. We become the sort of people we envision … a vision of goodness promoted by no other creature.

I don’t know how such a species, with its vicious nature and dark potential, could become so wondrous … unless there really were magical beings like Santa – magical beings who show us how it COULD be, how we CAN do it, who we CAN be.

Most animals don’t acknowledge themselves in a mirror … but humans do. We look at ourselves, and evaluate, and struggle to do and be “better” than our natures made us. I don’t think we would do that without the help of magic.

So I believe in Santa. And I hope you do too.

Happy holidays, and peace to you and yours.

The Thing I Like About … [spoilers]

As Above So Below: when the tour guide’s friend acknowledges his child.

In As Above, the main characters are seeking secret treasure in the catacombs underneath Paris. They ask a couple of locals to help them navigate the parts of the tunnels where tourists aren’t supposed to go. After the group leaves the main tunnels, they quickly become lost, cut off, and terrified. They begin to see things – images and even corporeal items – from their pasts, and to hear voices from beyond the grave.

By the end, the few survivors are injured, apparently trapped, and surrounded by creatures that crept out of the darkness. There’s little hope … until the main character figures out the secret to escape: confront whatever shames them.

The local man who had brought them into the catacombs asks no questions and wastes no time. He admits to having a child that he knows is his but has never claimed. He offers no apology and no excuse.

And he is allowed to escape.

We walk through our lives complaining about the things that have hurt us, but we often turn a blind eye to the things we have done, to the hurts we have caused. We pretend to ourselves that we don’t know why we feel bad or why we never seem to be able to look on the bright side. We pretend that we’ve left the past behind us, and that we have no sins to report – certainly not enough sins to warrant the things we have suffered at the hands of others or at the hands of fate.

But we’re only pretending.

We always know what we’ve done. And as long as we don’t acknowledge it, it will stay with us, haunting us, attacking us again and again, driving us deeper into the pit we’ve dug for ourselves. We’re never really unaware of our crimes, and convincing others we’re innocent never really convinces us.

Of course, some of the characters hadn’t even really done anything wrong; they just thought they had. They had been children, witness to a tragedy that they only imagined was their fault. But the effect was the same – a cesspool of shame and guilt that swirled just below the surface of everything they thought and everything they were.

Once the shame is acknowledged, however, it trickles away like water out of a tub. Once the crimes – real or imagined – are faced and dealt with, the guilt evaporates, leaving a clean slate and a fresh new heart. There’s no need for apology – why would there be shame if there was no regret? – and there’s no need for excuses – everyone in the tunnels had something that tormented them, some transgression that darkened their spirits. Everyone hurts and is hurt, because everyone is a human being.

And the ones who accept that and are willing to deal with the consequences … they go free.

The Thing I Like About …

Touch: the thing that most likely was the reason the show got cancelled.

Touch deals with a boy and his father; the father is ordinary, and the boy is extraordinary. The boy can see the numerical underpinnings of the world, and he uses that ability to help others. The father loves his son, and uses that love to help him. And the glimpses we the audience get to see of the interconnectedness of human life are creative, inspiring and heartwarming.

But Season Two puts the boy and his father on a path of escape – running from some shadowy powers-that-be who know what the boy can do and either fear it or want to control it or both. We spend this season watching them stay less than a step ahead of their pursuers, and we don’t get to see as much of the magic interconnectedness of human life. Things just aren’t as creative, inspiring or heartwarming, and the tension of constantly hiding and fleeing becomes the only thing we experience.

The ending, though, was more than hopeful. It clearly (to my eyes, anyway) was going to allow the boy to use his ability even more than before, and to help others again, and to inspire again. Unfortunately the powers-that-be in the real world didn’t see it that way, and they decided to cancel the show.

And that, to me, is the real darkness that the boy (and his father) were combatting the whole time: the tendency of human beings to be afraid of the magic of our lives, to try to control and micromanage that magic for short-sighted reasons, and, sadly, to give up looking for magic just when it becomes visible – like lying down and freezing to death twenty yards from the farmhouse we glimpsed through the trees.

The first and most consistent thing the boy tries to impress upon his father is that the magic of the universe cannot be controlled or micro-managed; it blossoms as it wishes to, and does what it’s meant to do, regardless of any external attempts to change it or anyone’s opinions about it. The boy is never afraid of the people who follow and hunt them, because he has total faith and trust in the magic that he sees all around him. Season Two warned us what those of us who can’t see the grand pattern might do unless we’re careful: we’ll destroy rather than create, hurt rather than heal, fear rather than live. Season Two was the reason why Season One was so amazing – because in our real world full of fear and doubt and struggle, the challenge isn’t to find magic or harness it or understand it. The challenge is to leave it the hell alone – to trust, to allow, to believe, to relax, to know.

I’m disappointed that there was no Season Three, but if the purpose of the show was to demonstrate what’s possible – both good and bad – then I say message received. I’ll never be the one who sees the grand pattern – sometimes I can’t quite see myself getting through the next two hours – but I believe in the magical interconnectedness of humanity. I believe in magic, the real kind.

And if we can envision it while watching a television show, imagine what we can witness if we bring that vision outside with us. Imagine what the world will show us then.

The Thing I Like About …

(spoiler alert)

Oz the Great and Powerful: when she refuses healing magic.

In this tale from Oz, the fledgling “wizard” Oscar unwittingly betrays the lovely Theodora, who ends up being transformed into the green-skinned angry wicked witch we all know and love. Her sister Evanora offers to change her back to her lovely original appearance, but Theodora says no, shouting that she would rather show Oscar forever what “he had done to” her. She embraces her notion of betrayal, her scars, and her anger, and she becomes vengeful and full of hatred born from pain.

Why would she do this?

Why would she decide to be ugly and angry and bitter and evil, when, with a simple spell, she could have been returned to herself? Why would she choose to keep the ugliness close to her, and to abandon what she was before Oscar came into her life?

I suppose for the same reason the rest of us do that.

We want the people or events that hurt us to feel bad about what they’ve done.

When we’re growing up, we’re told repeatedly that the things we’ve done wrong should be things we “feel bad about.” In a way, therefore, we’re told that “feeling bad about” something is the way to make the thing better, the way to show that we’re really good people after all, the way to make amends.

But when you say it out loud like that, it doesn’t really make any sense.

Feeling bad about the mistakes we make probably is a sign that we’re really good people after all … but how bad are we supposed to feel, and for how long, and for which kinds of mistakes? Really, ultimately, it’s not about the feeling bad; it’s about being sorry, and saying sorry, and making amends as best we can. But how is Oscar supposed to do that, when Theodora has decided to focus on the feeling bad?

Both for herself and for Oscar, she has put the emphasis on suffering – his for hurting her, and hers in order to remind him. She also wants to remind herself of her mistake: she trusted. She wants to make sure she feels far too bad about that “mistake” to be tempted to make it again. And she wants to make sure Oscar feels as bad about it as she does. And no one ever gets to be truly sorry, or make amends, or be forgiven, or make things right.

Theodora – and so many of the rest of us – choose instead to embrace our suffering, our scars, our hurts and betrayals, our mistakes and imperfections … purely for the purpose of punishing others and scaring ourselves onto a different path.

But either Oscar cares about what he’s done, or he doesn’t. If he does, then there’s nothing to be angry about. If he doesn’t, then he’ll never care about – or even notice – her suffering anyway. Either way, she’s keeping that suffering for no reason, for no purpose, and in the end she’s the only one who feels bad about any of it. In the end, she’s only punishing herself.

We have that choice at every turn. We can hold onto our pain and our anger and our betrayal; we can struggle inordinately to prevent any kind of pain from happening to us again. We can carry our green skin and our wickedness with us into the future to “punish” those who “made us this way” – and we’ll succeed, because we are the ones being punished, and we are the ones who made ourselves “this way.”

Or …

We can let it go. We can say the spell that returns us to our original selves, and accept the magic of healing. It won’t mean we don’t hurt, or that we forget what happened. It won’t mean that we ourselves don’t make mistakes. We’ll still be expected to learn and improve, to suffer, to forgive when we really don’t want to. We’ll still have all the memories with which to make better choices in the future. But we won’t be punished, and we won’t be bitter and vengeful and angry and lost. Those who care about us will be able to make up for their errors and set things right, and those who don’t care about us won’t be marching next to us every step the way for the rest of our lives.

We’ll be our original lovely selves again. We’ll be free.

The Thing I Like About …

Lake Mungo [spoiler alert]: the fact that she’s in all the photos.

In Lake Mungo, a girl seems to be haunting her house. As we learn about the weeks leading up to her death, we discover that she had strange dreams, that she was troubled by an apparently supernatural encounter at a sleep-away camp, that her parents have seen ghosts of her in her bedroom. We also see, by the end of the film, that her parents may have been seeing a recording haunting of things she did before she died, that her dreams may have been prophetic in nature (as well as the supernatural sighting), and that her brother – in his grief, trying to make sense of all of it and comfort his family – has hoaxed pretty much all of his video “evidence”.

And then, at the end, when they’ve gone through the difficult process of grieving and letting go, and the family is leaving the house, we are shown all the photos again … and there she is, off to the side, tucked into the shadows, hanging out next to the hoaxed “her”. It turned out the haunting was real … but not the one that everyone was looking at.

Why do people believe in ghosts? Some say it’s because we want to believe in life after death. Some just use it as a catch-all term for the-weird-stuff-that-happens-that-we-can’t-explain.

Why don’t people believe in ghosts? A lot of them say it’s because they don’t believe in things they can’t explain scientifically, or in things that seem irrational or illogical. Some just don’t want to think about the possibility that scary stuff can exist.

But most of us are stuck in between: we believe in ghosts, and we don’t believe in ghosts. We want to believe in life after death, but we don’t want to believe that scary things can exist. We want to see magic … but we’re afraid to see magic. We put our energy into creating the illusion of magic for others, but never really believe it ourselves … but it’s actually really still there.

The magic is really still there.

It may be right behind you, right now.

The Thing I Like About …

Dumbo: the feather the crows give Dumbo so that he can fly.

Dumbo has no idea that he can fly. It’s not part of the ordinary stuff that elephants can do. But his ears are just so … huge … and it just seems like a possibility. … If he can overcome the notion that elephants can’t fly.

But the crows know that nobody thinks they can fly, until they flap their little wings (or ears, as the case may be) and realize that they’re soaring over the ground. The crows know that all Dumbo needs is a way to counteract that whole elephants-can’t-fly thing. The crows know that if he can overcome his own arbitrary boundaries, then Dumbo can do anything. Anything.

In the real world, people tend to be … negative. Some people can be very negative. There is a fair bit of unpleasantness in this world, to be sure, but that’s not usually what all the negativity is about. It’s about ourselves. We don’t like how we look. We don’t think we’re smart. We don’t think we’re good. We don’t think we’ll ever get anywhere. We don’t think we’ll be “allowed” to get anywhere, or be anyone any different, or do anything that we want to do. We feel trapped, and fatalistic, and resigned, and sad.

But what if we can fly?

What if we can break all the boundaries and ceilings and walls and limits, and do whatever we want to do? What if the only thing standing in the way of our dreams is ourselves? You might be thinking, “Yeah, but that’s not a very motivational example; people can’t actually fly.” But in 1783, the Montgolfier brothers went up in their first balloon. In 1903, the Wright brothers flew 120 feet. Today, people fly all over the world, in planes made out of metal. People parachute out of those planes, or fly dangling from hang-gliders. If the Cirque du Soleil is any indication, then people can defy all kinds of gravity and other laws of physics, for no good reason other than that they thought they could.

We can fly.

If the crows handed you a magical feather, and told you that you could fly with it, what would you do? Where would you go? Who would you be? Maybe you can’t fly in the “I jumped off the garage roof and soared over the neighbourhood” way, but in a lot of ways, you can fly. And if you trust that magic, and take that first step into the air, you’ll be able to do anything.


The Thing I Like About …

Willow: everything the High Aldwin says.

In Willow, the title character stumbles across a baby who needs to be returned to her people. But Willow’s people are hesitant to take on such a dangerous journey. They turn to the High Aldwin for counsel, and the High Aldwin “consults the bones” … which tell him nothing. So he asks Willow if he has any love for the child. Willow says yes. The High Aldwin says “the bones have spoken!”

As the party starts out on their journey, the High Aldwin sends a bird into the sky, and tells the party to follow the bird. The bird turns back to the village. The High Aldwin tells them, “Ignore the bird. Follow the river.”

Even before the baby arrives in the village, Willow is in the line to apprentice with the High Aldwin. The High Aldwin holds his hand out to each applicant, and asks each one in which of his fingers the power to control the world resides. Each applicant picks a finger and is told that it’s the wrong choice. Willow also chooses badly, but only after considering that the power was in his own finger. The High Aldwin later tells him that that’s the correct answer.

The High Aldwin is trying to show Willow that, although there is a copious amount of magic and wonder in the world, the real “power” is in ourselves – in our decisions, our desires, our efforts, our wishes and goals. Following magic – or anything else – blindly is not the way to achieve any of the things that we’ve asked magic to help us with. Love should be the basis for our decisions. We should be the instigators of our actions, the thinkers of our thoughts, the doers of our deeds. We should have faith in ourselves.

The High Aldwin has spoken: follow your heart.