To Join the Story
When I was 4 years old a trailer began airing on TV for an upcoming Disney movie. I didn’t catch what the story was actually about, but I was dazzled by an image of silver spoons diving into a bowl of punch in one beautiful fanning motion. It was the longing of my little heart to see that movie with the SPOONS. (Don’t you sometimes miss the tiny but true-hearted objectives and victories of childhood?)
One day a few months later Mom told us that she would have a surprise for us after all our schoolwork and chores were done. We flew through our duties, ran to the living room, and sat down on the couch in an orderly line, looking as sweet and responsible and deserving as we possibly could.
Mom walked into the living room holding something behind her. She slowly drew it out for us to see, and it was...THE SPOONS MOVIE (otherwise known as Beauty and The Beast). Oh, my heart! What a sublime moment! I hadn’t even told my parents of my interest in seeing the movie ...but mothers have an extra bit of magical intuition and so here it was, our very own copy to watch and memorize and sing along to. As it turned out, there was a lot more to the story than dancing spoons. There was some good stuff about sacrificial love turning hopeless creatures into their truest, best selves.
Dad brought home all kinds of movies, too. VHS was still rather new technology for the home, and our parents’ generation was relishing the fun of rediscovering favorites from their childhood to introduce to their children. My heart was so attuned to story and surrendered to it so gladly in every new adventure offered by those black plastic tapes. My siblings grew to dread tv time when it was my turn to pick the movie, because they knew they’d be subjected to either Peter Pan starring Mary Martin, or Dumbo. But I followed my heart and my siblings just had to deal with it as I snuggled up into the best spot on the couch, curling up with my knees against my chest and resting my chin on the couch arm.
Watching Star Wars provoked my first experience of what I later knew, thanks to C.S. Lewis, to call sehnsucht. I didn’t know how to explain or respond to the way my heart -- even at four or five years old -- ached with longing when the music soared as Luke gazed at the twin setting suns. It utterly disarmed me, this encounter with something that was so beautiful and painful at the same time. This was happy heartbreak, an experience beckoning my soul to something faintly familiar and just out of reach. It tapped the well of longing I had - have - to find and know and prove and preserve beauty. You might laugh that this credit goes to “Star Wars” - it’s ok, I do too - but there it is.
Here is why I love movies and why I have no shame being excited about the event that The Force Awakens already is. Many more prominent and eloquent people before me have written about the importance of story, so I won’t attempt to add much more to that conversation. But I will say that I see in the faces of fantasy fans - and in myself as a moviegoer, history lover, one-time aspiring actress - the intrinsic desire to know that we are part of a bigger story, an epic drama with goodness and truth and the possibility that “nobodys” could matter, a reality in which skeptics become believers and what was splintered is made whole.
Could it be that we could learn from the ones who dress up for movie premieres, who invest in cosplay, who go to ComicCon? I am humbled by their uninhibited imaging of something we all have in our hearts: the desire to join the story, even if at its fringes, and for God (or purpose, or beauty, or belonging, or whatever you call it) to draw near to us. To reference C.S. Lewis again, “We do not want to merely ‘see’ beauty - though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words - to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”
This is the childlike wonder we’re all advised to reclaim. It is truest awe, amazement that is, in a way, relief -- a ready fall into the arms of something that is beautifully, simultaneously beyond us yet almost in hand.
Sure, it’s just a movie. But it’s a movie that will fill theaters with countless hearts bursting with gladness over a long-anticipated day. There will be some who have waited decades, questioning whether the wonder they experienced once before could actually be real to them again. The trailer even gave them this permission, with one character hinting at legends, question marks in history - and another (formerly a confirmed skeptic) asserting that all of it was true. Sound familiar?