In the movie You've Got Mail, there is a wonderful line where a character says, “You are what you read.” Just as we digest food and make it a part of our bodies, we digest books and make them a part of our minds. I think the same thing of books could be said of movies.
When I was 5-years-old, my mom took the kids to see the movie Krull. For those unfamiliar with the movie, it is a film tries to blend the science fiction elements of Star Wars with the magic and fantasy of The Lord of the Rings. Most people remember it as the movie with one of the coolest 80's weapons: the flying, bladed Glave. Or as it is sometimes referred to: the “Really-Cool-Magical-Weapon-That-Can-Only-Be-Used-At-The-End-Of-The-Movie-Because-It-Would-Be-Too-Expensive-Otherwise.”
The movie centers around Colwyn, a prince who is betrothed to the beautiful Lyssa. It is prophesied that their offspring would rule the galaxy. An evil alien lord hears this and kidnaps Lyssa. Colwyn begins a quest worthy of Joseph Campbell to find his lost love. Along the way he assembles a motley crew of outlaws, a wacky wizard, a sage guide, an orphan child, and a cyclops named Rell.
Many years earlier the Cyclopses had two eyes. They made a deal with the evil alien lord to give up one of their eyes in order to see the future. The deal was kept, but the only thing they can see is the exact moment of their death. If they try to avoid it, it will only guarantee horrible suffering.
In the last act of the movie, Rell the Cyclops stays behind as the rest of the heroes make a mad dash for the dark fortress, because he has foreseen his time to die. His friends make it to the fortress, but are held off by the dark lord's guards (basically Storm Trooper knock offs). If they don't breach the black fortress, they will lose Lyssa forever and the world will plunge into darkness. But at the last minute, Rell comes riding on a Fire Mare with a full force James Horner score at his back. He saves the day, but meets with a truly horrible and painful end, as was his fate for avoiding his pre-destined death.
After the movie, my mom took us all out the Chuck-E-Cheese. We we talking and laughing over a large pizza and a large pitcher of cold Pepsi, when I turned to my mom and asked, “I don't understand why the Cyclops came if he knew he was going to die. Why did he do that for them?”
My mom looked at me and said, “It was because he loved them.”
Now, you have to understand that in my 5 year-old mind, love was that thing that involved kissing or something that made you write poems on paper Valentines. I'm sure someone had used the word “love” in a different context around me before that, but I cannot remember. Even my parents telling they loved me was still somehow connected to the warm, fuzzy Hallmark part of my life.
But Rell the Cyclops loved his friends. I couldn't processes it. Rell was not warm and fuzzy. He was big, burly and always sad. He didn't write poems or kiss anyone. Instead, we was often silent, always helpful, and he died awfully. What did that have to do with love?
I think this is the biggest mistake we make about love from the time we are children and even, sadly, through adulthood. We attach love to a feeling. How many of our movies are about chasing that feeling? Remember Baby says to Johnny in Dirty Dancing “I'm so scared that I'll never feel the same way I feel when I'm with you.” Or how 99.999999999% of the songs on the radio are about how love makes us feel? For some of my students, they cannot grasp the idea that love is not a feeling. I tell them that if it is, then it is an absolute waste of time.
Here is why: you cannot hold onto a feeling. Emotions come and go. Sometimes we are happy and sometimes we are sad. We know we will not feel these things forever (unless we suffer from something like depression). And emotions are irrational. How many of us have felt sad when everything in our life at the present moments tells us we should be happy? Or how many of us have been scared that there's a bugler hiding in the bathroom cabinet, even though there is no rational way that could happen?
Feelings aren't bad. They also aren't good either. They just are. Fear of getting in a car with a stranger can be good. Happiness at causing someone else pain can be bad. The value of our hearts does not lie in our feelings, but in our choices.
To choose something is to make an act of the will, not the passions. I remember at the end of the Great Gatsby, Tom talks to Nick about someone he's lost. Tom has just done something horrible, but he tries to explain to Nick that it is okay because when he thought about his own personal loss, Tom “cried like a baby.” Tom thought that having a cathartic moment had some sort of moral value. To which I say: who cares?
We have feelings. That doesn't makes us human, but that doesn't make us good. I feel pity. But what good is that pity if I don't do anything about it. The Letter of James 2:15-16 says: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
As Dumbledore tells Harry at the end of the Chamber of Secrets: It is our choices that show us what we truly are. And to make a choice requires an act of the will. Rell the Cyclops knew that helping his friends would not feel good. But he chose to help them. He set his will against death and acted for the good of another over himself. That is what led to his death.
And that is love.
Love is a kind of death, and no I don't mean it in weird Goth-y sort of way. But love is sacrifice. You cannot love unless you put someone else before yourself. Only then does love have any value or meaning. It is better than a feeling, because you can choose to do good for someone even if it doesn't feel good, but you can't feel something good just because you want to. I've sadly heard of too many marriages ending because the feelings were gone. But building your relationship on feelings is building on a house of sand. It shifts the foundations and then it crumbles. But real love doesn't change. It will last as long as you will it. And the feelings will come as a by-product of the love.
Now, I didn't understand all of this when I was 5, but I began to get it. And this past year when I Joseph Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity, it all clicked. He wrote that Jesus did not have to die on the cross to save us. He could have saved us simply by willing it, because He is God and He is all powerful. So why did Jesus have to die? Ratzinger said it was because that is the only way we would ever know who God is. God is complete self-giving.
What do I get from the cross? I get hope, salvation, Heaven, assurance, guidance, consolation, and the forgiveness of my sins.
What does Jesus get? Me.
I often say that he got screwed on that deal. Because He doesn't need me to be happy. But instead, He went through horrible torture and gave everything away, including His own life so that I could be happy. Why? Because He loves me. The cross shows me God's nature: God is love.
That is what Rell showed me in that dark movie theatre 19 years ago. This one-eyed man taught me to see love.