The Thing I Like About …

The Biggest Loser: the episode in Washington, D.C.

In that episode, the contestants travelled to Washington, D.C., to address the government about the dangers of obesity. Throughout the week, the contestants worked out in the streets and in unfamiliar gyms and on hotel stairs; they ate out and were busy with things outside of their physical training. It seemed likely that at the weigh-in they would not have been able to lose the kind of weight they were losing on the Biggest Loser campus.

The contestants gathered for the weigh-in on the lawn in front of the Lincoln Memorial; they all filed up to the scale discussing their struggles and how daunting everything had been. And then the camera shows a close-up of the statue of Lincoln.

It wasn’t that I poo-pooed the struggle of the contestants. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to work as hard as they do, or to be faced with the prospect of losing the weight they need to lose to be healthy. They’re often facing an early death and a limited life if they don’t succeed, and I honestly don’t know how I would do in their place. It wasn’t that.

It was that the image of Abraham Lincoln evoked companion images of so much struggle and hardship – the brutality of slavery and the devastation of the Civil War. On one hand, we saw this strong reminder of dark times, of death and worse than death, of sacrifice and loss … and on the other hand, we saw this group of people consumed with a personal struggle that had challenged most of them for their entire lives. On one hand, we saw this image of the end of slavery, and on the other hand, we saw people living in the modern world who wanted to free themselves from self-induced punishment. Were these two entities being offered to the audience as equal in intensity and importance? I hope not. That would be, at the least, insulting to the fallen.

But the contrasting images showed an important aspect of the Biggest Loser journey – and any journey, really: we are affected directly and immediately by our experiences, and because of that , those experiences become larger than life … and larger than ourselves. We care about other people; we know our problems aren’t (for the most part) the worst problems in the world. But we can see biggest and best the things closest to us – all of our problems and challenges and doubts and fears – and it’s so easy to get lost in all of that, and to forget the larger perspective outside of us.

Should we wander the earth ignoring our troubles and focusing at every turn on the horrible things that others have endured? I don’t think that would accomplish anything, and I don’t know why that would be expected. But if we can take a step back from our troubles, we can see that they aren’t necessarily big at all, or incredibly significant, or insurmountable; they may, upon more distant examination, not be problems at all. Most importantly, if we step back far enough to be able to compare (for example) the Civil War with our weight-loss struggles, we will certainly be standing in a place that makes us bigger than the challenges we face.

Will that perspective put money in your pocket, or pull the pounds off your body, or get you a promotion, or bring your ex-partner back into your life? No. But all of that stuff will be much easier to handle. You will be at the center of your universe, and all of your experiences will be floating around you at a distance, and you can figure out what to do with them and how to feel about them without trauma. By putting your troubles in perspective, you become the focus. You become important. You become huge. And from your new vantage point, you can see better all the people and good experiences that were obscured by your pain and fear.

You can see how much success you had all along … and start living the kind of life that honours yourself and all those who have come before.

The Thing I Like About …

The Core: the part where Serge says he’s only saving three people.

In The Core, the heroes are tasked with tunneling into the core of the earth – of course we can! – to convince the core to begin spinning again. This will guarantee that life on earth survives. It’s very important because of a) the whole life-on-earth-surviving thing and b)apparently it’s our own experiments-gone-awry fault that the core stopped, so if the earth dies, the afterlife party would be totally awkward.

So the heroes delve into the earth with an experimental drilling chamber, going into the bowels of the earth with very little plan and even less hope. They’re claustrophobic, panicking, and anxious – not the best frame of mind to engage in teamwork. They’re overwhelmed by the importance of their mission – saving the whole world – and things start falling apart.

But Serge has a picture of his family – his wife and children – and he tells the others that he’s not there to save the world. Saving the world is too huge a concept, too monumental an undertaking to hope for any success. He’s just trying to save those three people in the picture. That much he knows he can do.

We all want the world to be a better place – agreeing on what “better” is might really be the only problem – but we let ourselves get bogged down in the daunting task of changing minds and economies and cultures and landscapes … all over the world. All over the world. We start thinking that our work only has meaning if it changes the world, if it helps all mankind, if it manages somehow to better the existence of over seven billion people. We take on this absolutely enormous task, and then we wonder why we’re stressed out, unfulfilled, harried and anxious. We take on this probably impossible mission, and we spend our lives feeling like failures.

But maybe “charity starts at home” refers to more than just setting priorities; maybe it refers to that perspective of saving just three people – formatting our lives around what really matters to us, and around the people who really matter to us. It’s very important to “reach for the stars” – to follow our dreams no matter what – but we aren’t really reaching the stars by pretending to be superheroes. We’re just setting ourselves up, and keeping our gifts from the world because we think they’re not “big” enough.

If you really want to save the world, stop trying to save the world. Save the three (or however many) people who matter most to you (including yourself). Make the world better for them, in every way that you can. If you do that, then your life will never have been wasted. And if everyone does that, then the world will be saved.

It worked for Serge.

A Countdown for the Holidays

The Wisdom of Pinhead: Part Six

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.

 “[to Paul while looking down at the Earth] Glorious, is it not? The creatures who walk its surface, always looking to the light, never seeing the untold oceans of darkness beyond. There are more humans alive today than in all of its pitiful history. The Garden of Eden. A garden of flesh.”

Humans are always looking for something better.  Something prettier.  Something more awesome.  We fixate on superficiality and appearances, striving for some misguided “perfection” that is meaningless in a world – and in bodies – that are ever changing.  We live in constant dissatisfaction with our current lives/weights/jobs/partners because we’re sure that something better will come along.  We focus on failure and flaws, and search for some all-encompassing “success” that remains undefined and unattainable.  Even our religions are steeped in the notion that in some future time or place, everything will be “perfect”, “better”, “happy”, “complete”.

We don’t notice how delightful things already are, how wonderful are the people around us, how perfect we are on the inside where it counts.  We don’t see that happiness and perfection aren’t goals, but rather the way we feel when we like who we are and live with our hearts.  We deny ourselves joy in hopes of future joy; we deny ourselves love in hopes of future love.

Pinhead’s just paraphrasing the birthday boy, who spent his entire brief life on this planet trying to explain to people that this life – this world, this moment – is all we can know about … and that’s fantastic!  It’s full of wonders, and goodness, and love and light – if we choose to experience it that way.  He explained that this world is a gift, and that we should enjoy it.  He explained that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Right here, right now.  In our hands.  Right now.

Don’t let Pinhead be the only one who gets that. Okay?

Happy Holidays.



The Thing I Like About …

The Protector:  his mission.

Depending on which version you watch – the “local” one or the international one – you may or may not realize that the hero’s father is not killed.  But in either one, the terrible injustice to his father is apparent, as is the indifference of the authorities to his plight – his pet elephant has been stolen by dreadful people and taken to another country.

The hero, played by Tony Jaa, has wicked martial arts skills and is not afraid to use them.  He’s not murderous, but he’s willing to fight hard to eliminate obstacles.  He has reason to be angry; he has reason to hate these evil people whose existence makes countless people miserable.  In the end his persistence, courage, and sacrifice result in the defeat of evil and the salvation of the innocent.

Depending on which version you watch, you may or may not understand about the mystical connection between the good man and the elephant – that the elephant spirit can bring the good man even out of the arms of death – but by the end of the film we know that the hero has won his objective and ends up happy.   He’s faced evil, he’s faced death, he’s vanquished the bad guys and set the captives free.  He’s fought valiantly.

But that wasn’t at all what he had intended to do.

He just wanted his elephant back.

And with his eye on just that one prize, he was able to do all that other stuff.