Friday, November 26, 2010


It's hard to feel thankful when you're hurting. When you're grieving, it's even more difficult. Growing up in the church, I often heard people talk about 'giving thanks in all circumstances.' It's in the Bible, yes, it's the way many Christians say we're supposed to feel, supposed to act, supposed to supposed to supposed to.

Do you ever feel tired of living in the 'supposed to' world?

In screenwriting, everything moves because of conflict. Without it, no one would go to the movies. Yet, so many of us avoid conflict, dodge it, suppress it (within others, within ourselves) because we think it will make our life better. But what if the opposite was true? Not 'what if we just made people's lives hell'. Certainly not. But what if we didn't avoid conflict. What if we faced it. They say in movies, audiences are attracted to characters who do the things they only think of doing. For example, if someone cuts you off, gives you the finger in traffic, your inner self may scream out loud and imagine following this person to the nearest Whole Foods to confront them and tell them how 'unacceptable that was.' But who does this? Really? Who has the guts to put into action the thoughts of millions of scared little broken people?

People in the movies.

This is (partly) why we care so much about cinema, about story, about characters. This is why conflict isn't so bad after all.

In Nine Inch Nails' brutal, cut-to-the-core-of-humanity song, "Hurt", Trent Reznor sings: "I hurt myself today / To see if I still feel / I focus on the pain / The only thing that's real." Conversely, there's a line pictured at the end of the film Into The Wild wonderfully summarizing Christopher McCandles' self-realization at his journey's end: "Happiness only real when shared." This was McCandles final entry into his diary before he died.

Two things are posited here as being real: pain and happiness. Like life, both cannot happen alone, in a vacuum. Pain often happens because of others, because of conflict, because of interactions and confrontations with the world. Happiness, according to McCandles, happens only with others. It means nothing to be happy if you're all alone. So why do so many of us avoid pain and believe happiness can happen when we do what we want to do, on our own terms, for the good of ourselves, for the good of what society, parents, friends say we're 'supposed to' do? So many people live lives married to the hope of pleasing others, of not letting our parents down, of being (in a deeply inner sense) found out. We don't want others to know how hurt we are or how much we need them. Of course, there's some good to this. I'm not expecting people walk around all day expressing their deepest hearts' desires to people with whom they don't have a relationship with. Yet, at the same time, it'd be nice to encounter a few more risk takers out there (myself, included). It'd be nice, just once in a very long while, to talk to a person who doesn't let what they're 'supposed to do' dictate what they really should be doing.

I think this is what the writer of that famous (overused) New Testament phrase 'give thanks in all circumstances' was getting at. Giving thanks the for hurt. Why? Because it's real. And because, happiness cannot be felt without it. Friedrich Nietszhe' words first pointed me to this truth, but I don't think I was ready to receive it then. No, I think before you can receive something like this (and when I say receive, I don't mean possess for I'll probably forget this truth in a few years and have to rediscover it in some other place, in some other person and learn it all, over and over again) you have to surrender to the hurt, to the pain, to the suffering inside your own head. It's similar to what John Carroll argued in The Existential Jesus. Like Christ, we all must face the pain of our own mortality, or own deserted, desperate (and painfully lonely) isolation, at times. If we don't, we will break.


We will lose it. We can't fight it. We must surrender and accept, not run away and hide. For we won't be able to live with the power of denial and the refusal to see pain and suffering for what it is: real.

This is the water I'm treading in right now (and I have been for the past several months, I think). At times, it's exhausting. At night in bed, it can turn into a kind of all-consuming fear, a morbid sense of detached lifelessness. And then, there are moments (brief glimmers, really) where Joshua Radin's song lyrics struggle to the surface. Where I trust and hope and believe that one day (even though it's not today nor anytime in the foreseeable distance) "everything'll be alright." Where hurt morphs--in a surprise spark of illumination and transcendence--into happiness.

This is 'giving thanks in all circumstances'. When hurt is not marginalized and happiness is not exalted, but both--in all their mystery--are held together, closely. A kind of glorious song and dance of emotional conflict.

Some call this being crazy. I think it's just being.


Maria E. said...

Thank you for this, Neville.

Anonymous said...

Amazing. Paradox. Truth.