Love the Greatest Adventure: An Inquiry into Romeo and Juliet, Like Crazy and Brokeback Mountain

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Love is the greatest adventure.



Especially if we want to live our lives to the fullest.

 

It is the moment where true beauty overcomes our reason and will, our plans are torn to bits and choices get made and voilà, life happens. Though, it is possible that we can be seduced by what appears to be beauty, beauty is itself inseparable from the great leap.

 

Everyone knows the story: Romeo and Juliet, coming from opposing feudal families, should not have fallen in love, but they did! God bless em, it was a hard road.

 

I saw a movie once called Like Crazy that captured with accuracy the modern lover. Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, they fall in love. Their lives, however, are complicated, separated by boundaries, borders, and red tape. Anna is an English exchange student studying in America where she meets Jacob, a local resident. In the initial stages of their love they make the leap, and the process of creative destruction takes place. When Anna overstays her student visa and is subsequently barred from entering the United States, their relationship becomes all the the more difficult.

 

The barriers of their long distance relationship dismantles what appeared to be mutual self-gift.

 

Love without sacrifice, is not love.

 

Anna and Jacob had sparks, they seemed to be perfect for one another. But something was missing… no one dies at the end. Even when they are back together, they fail to see past the immediate problems, the obstacles. They both fail to make the leap that love is, the final leap, the leap that tears open to human heart so that it may become an abode in which the beloved may find a home.

 

You see, when children play at romance it is like a game of house. One puts the “wife” hat on, and then takes it off. The other puts the “husband” hat on, and then takes it off.

 

When adults live romance, people lose everything and gain everything in the same breath. People die and people make mistakes, but at least it is real.



True love is complete gift.

 

Look at the tragedy of Brokeback Mountain.

 

These men, so called lovers, would not give all of themselves to anyone, neither to their respective wives, nor to each other. It is not primarily a sad story because of the persecution; it is a sad story because love failed to give. Ennis would not die for Jack, and vice versa. No matter how good the sex was, without love, the story is heartbreaking; neither had the courage to give everything.

 

Do we?

 

Doubtless someone will say, “But if there wasn’t any persecution, they could have loved each other!”

 

Whoever thinks that the point of Romeo and Juliet was a denunciation of social boundaries misses the story completely.

 

True love crosses any threshold, any boundary, even at the risk of death.

 

If it will not risk death, it is not love.

 

Love, however, can also mean saying no.

 

Take Anna and Jacob who flitter between commitment and noncommitment. If circumstance or lack of capacity prevented them from the ultimate gift that their relationship seemed to be leading to, prevented them from making the great and final “I do,” then breaking it off would have been the most loving action possible.

 

To hold the beloved in the land of “maybe” is torture and selfish.

 

We cannot say no to commitment, total self gift, and yes to the beloved at the same time.

 

It is a contradiction which would inevitably destroy the beloved.

 

We see this very destruction in Brokeback Mountain. Families crumble, children are left without a stable environment in which to thrive, to grow up as beloved. It is heart wrenching and brutal, and the longer the “maybe” exists, the more intense the destruction becomes.

 

I am not, of course, speaking against a normal period of courtship in which two souls discern together whether or not they’ve found the one. For that discerning is two people journeying together towards a goal, and knowing that the wild and ultimate freedom of the other is operative. It is a productive time of “maybe” that finishes at the appropriate time with a “Yes” or a “No”, and no nonsense.

 

Just as with any great challenge that is worth doing, “half-hearted” just does not cut it. Why should love be any different?

Defending Goodness in an Age of Uncertainty

 

Every once and a while one gets the opportunity to stumble upon a great and engaging book. The kind that makes us excited to read again, to search and hunt for more of its kind. True to life at large, these hidden gems are hard to come by, and this is what makes the joy of finding them so riveting.
 

Recently I was blessed with such providence. I found my little hidden gem in a library branch I’ve only been to once in my life, the time I found this book! The book was none other than Roger Sarty’s War in the St. Lawrence. It was a captivating and educating read; not surprisingly for a history book on naval affairs, it had very little dry patches and best of all I was taken deeper into understanding the psyche of the Canadian generations before me.
 

I have noticed, mostly through my own inadequacy, that my own generation has a hard time understanding the ways of life from previous generations. During my time spent with a friend who has seen more winters than I can imagine, I am often confronted with a stark reality: my generation does not fully understand the horrors of a world war, the tumult of the sixties, or the need to support one’s military.
 

No matter how many times one sees Hitler and his cronies on TV or watches movies about the great military battles of those times, it will never compare to the actual reality of WWII. One can never imagine what it was like to live with constant, real, and vivid fear. It must have effected every aspect of life, the bus drivers, the shop keepers, the waiters, everyone must have felt the tension. People must have been more on edge, though I’m sure it also bonded people together as well.
 

War in the St. Lawrence is a captivating recollection of Canada’s efforts to protect many nations shipping interests along Canada’s enormous span of coastline from the attacks of German U-Boats, and even to guide transatlantic shipping to support Britain in her war effort against the Nazi death machine. The bravery of the Canadians who fought against the German U-Boats was enormous; at the best of times they were under-equipped and short-handed. Sometimes major waterways were defended by militarized pleasure craft, or other quick fixes to get some defence in place. Not only those in the military, but those who ran the supply ships ran a great risk to their lives in the open seas. Those on shore felt the fear as well: on more than one occasion the wreckage and bodies of dead sailors floated  ashore from recently destroyed vessels; sometimes the bodies were family members or relatives of the people in those very communities.

 

 

In an age where relativism is gaining more and more ground, it is scary to imagine a country whose citizens will cease to fight for what is right in this world, to have a generation who will say, “maybe it’s right for them,” instead of stopping atrocity. Relativism cannot fight evil, because it cannot identify it. If I truly believe in relativism, then what right do I have invading Germany to stop the holocaust? Who am I to say that Hitler was wrong and I am right? However, if we understand the value of human life, absolutely, only then are we capable of intervening.
 

Perhaps one reason why relativism has taken such a footing is because the very real, blatant, and undeniable reality of evil contained in war, mass murders, and dictatorship is rather distant for most North Americans under fifty years of age. Many brave men and women have fought for our country over the years since the Second World War, but more and more people are losing touch with the importance of an effective, functioning, and well supported military. That means support from it’s citizens.
 

Though I am a Canadian, I also find America’s military history intriguing. People tend to tar and feather all American war efforts in the last few decades, but judgement is far easier then working towards understanding. If we are to understand the errors of a nation’s army, we must look to that nation’s very citizens. We must dig deep into the psyche of their people and leaders. We must feel and know the pain of their cultures, the struggles that have played out for centuries. Only once this work has been done can one begin to understand the true motivations behind America’s hunt for Bin Laden, for example, or their military action in Iraq. The first lesson of human psychology is that any given action is rarely singularly motivated; likewise, saying that America’s involvement in Iraq is due to oil alone, is rather short-sighted.
 

It is difficult to make accurate or meaningful judgements of the American military operations in Vietnam also. Though it was a tragic and misguided effort, how many of us know about the true horrors of communism? How many have lived under the oppressive, mass murdering, regimes of the communist political machine? The non-communists in Vietnam understood this reality all too well following the fall of Saigon. Two choices existed: try to escape or face slave labour and probably death at the hands of the communists and their “re-education camps”. A mass exodus occurred; people tried to escape the communist occupation and took their chances on the open sea, often times with  home-made boats, facing deadly storms, pirates, disease, and starvation, rather then accept the “education” of the communists. Hundreds of thousands died trying to escape, and it wasn’t compassion or kindness they were running from. With this reality in mind, I cannot wholly blame America for trying.
 

Evil must be resisted in any form it takes, even at the risk of helping in the wrong way.
 

Without the capacity to see and know right from wrong, regardless of opinion or personal differences, a society becomes an enabling force for atrocity. Violating a country’s sovereignty is not an act that should be taken lightly; therefore, much thought and discernment is always needed to know when to intervene and when not too. As can been seen with the Rwandan genocide, to do nothing can be the worst choice of all.
 

Thanks to providence and the sacrifice of millions, we were spared from living beneath the Nazi boot. To argue that the lives lost defeating Nazi Germany were wasted, would be insanity. War is tragic, inhuman, depraved, and so contrary to every good thing, but the Nazi regime was worse. Taking a man’s life in an armed conflict is one thing, liquidating defenceless women and children for no other reason then their heritage is pure and unfettered evil. There is no better name for it.
 

Even so, I get the feeling that some would argue that “the Nazi’s just did what was right for them”. If this way of thinking has not been reached yet, relativism is quickly hurdling us in that direction. It is this type of thinking that terrifies me to my core. I have heard the argument that if Nazi Germany did conquer North America, then we would all have been indoctrinated into Nazi thinking, and thus we would not see anything wrong with Nazi thinking. For some this may be true, but for anyone with a solid sense of truth, it would not be the case.
 

No matter how long a dictatorship has been in place, we always hear of those who see the evil of their surroundings and fight against it in any way possible. For many, this means death at the hands of their government, but for these people, to do nothing in the face of such injustice is unacceptable. It is an undeniable proof of the human capacity for knowledge of what is good, and what is wrong, even in the face of relentless propaganda. These freedom fighters defied the greatest human inclination, the desire to maintain life, in the pursuit of goodness. A great example of this is the White Rose resistance movement: a group of university students who wrote and distributed anti-Nazi leaflets in defiance of such a malicious government. Many lost their lives because of their efforts.

 

If one rationalizes their experience of evil, they become more and more desensitized to it, until finally there is little or no reaction. It is good to be repulsed by evil. It is good to recoil at the thought of innocent people being slaughtered or worked to death. If a culture loses this ability it will lose its very soul. Great caution should be taken to ensure that the rationalization of evil is not encouraged. One need only look to the content of modern TV, video games, popular slang, pornography, etc. to see an unsettling trend.
 

More and more video games contain the ability to be good or evil, to kill the bad guys or kill innocent bystanders, to rob and murder or to live by some code. In one Japanese video game the sole purpose of the game is to stalk and rape women in the subway. Many would argue, “It’s just fantasy, or virtual reality, we don’t actually want to do these things.” My question is this: why would you even want to pretend to do it for fun? If our children spent their time imagining a scenario of sleeping with a prostitute and killing her after instead of paying her, a course of events which may be chosen in several of the games in the Grand Theft Auto series, would we encourage this “harmless” fantasizing?
 

In and of themselves, video games will not destroy a person’s conscience, but repeated exposure on a regular basis to such content will have a dire effect on a person’s ability to react to evil. We become desensitized to the suffering of the other, and therefore become more isolated and self-centered.
 

You can recognize the hero’s who fought against the Nazi occupation by those who decided to live for someone other then themselves, by those who risked everything to save children from Jewish ghetto’s, for example. You can see the fruit of self-centeredness by those who went along with the Nazis out of fear for their own life or livelihood, and as a result did atrocious acts they never would have done in any other circumstance. I cannot cast a judgemental finger at these people, however, because the pressure they were put under was enormous and unusual. To resist such coercion is extremely difficult, but this reality is exactly why it’s important to have firm and defined values, to know what one stands for, and what lines one will never hope to cross.
 

Some would argue that the only thing we can be certain about is that we can’t know anything with total certainty. People treat absolute truth like its some rigid and stodgy thing, that no true modern thinker could possibly hold such beliefs. I argue just the opposite. If we are to retain our decency and empathy then we need real and absolute values; only absolute truth can support real compassion.  I must decide and know that what is happening to my friend is wrong, before I will act to help him, or alleviate him from his persecutors. To renounce such an ability is foolishness. To take on the responsibility of knowing truth, goodness, and right from wrong is a lifelong process, but it enables one to become more human, more compassionate, and more loving. Just as action towards the good of the other is inseparable from love, so striving on a daily basis to know truth is inseparable from doing what is right. Without knowledge of truth, a person becomes a leaf in the wind ready to accept any new influential movement, whether it be from a heinous dictator, like Hitler, or from some other source.
 

My love for history began with my love for the human race; more and more I’m beginning to realise how understanding history is absolutely necessary to understanding the actions and motivations of modern day cultures and nations.

Walking With Tolkien: A Journey From Desolation to Life, Part 3 of 3

 

Though Frodo is crushed by his journey, we are given insight into how this pain and suffering can be translated into opportunity for gift and life. No other situation highlights this effect more than Frodo’s interactions with the miserable and pitiable Gollum.

 

Isn’t Gollum a bit like the pain and discomfort in all our lives?

 

Without Gollum the Hobbits could have actually had some good sleep, but instead they needed to be on their guard. Without Gollum they could have relaxed somewhat and enjoyed each other’s company, but instead the vile ex-Hobbit acted as a wedge, creating conflict between our two protagonists.

 

Gollum invokes pity and ire, but we must admit, without Gollum’s selfish desires, there would have been no guidance to Mordor, and in the end, all would have been lost.

 

Gollum contributes almost no good actions of his own intention to the entire story, but he cannot be removed from the tale. The undeniable reality that pain must be a part of our earthly lives rings true. Frodo was spared from his final caving into the power of the ring by Gollum removing the ring along with his finger. Ironically, the power of the ring over Gollum, is what spared Frodo from the pain and inevitable torment of accepting the ring as his master. Frodo would have become as dark and faceless as Gollum. It is my own pain that steers me from my pride. My agony showed me what some people endure throughout their entire lives. Now, when I meet someone who’s grumpy and vile I wonder, trying to understand, “What dark days have they suffered in their life?”

 

When Gollum became the Hobbit’s guide to Mordor, is when the story really began to strike home. The endless journey through the stinky, damp, and uninviting swamps, for example, was easy for me to imagine. I too looked down into the water and saw death looking up and was almost consumed if not for a select few who stood by and pulled me up. I smelt the stench and hated it; I wanted to be free.

 

Sam and Frodo continued forward, and with every mile their weariness grew. The ring crushed Frodo with its physical weight as well as its pressure upon his very will. Always, Frodo fought the temptation to give in, end his struggle, and accept the ring. Failure hung over me with the same effect. Joe, like Sam, was nearby to remind me of the goodness and light I was pursuing in such an endless endeavour. I experienced a deeply spiritual process in which, despite not hearing the words of someone who cared and continuing on a self-destructive path, somehow, I would register the words in a subconscious place and would be strengthened when I least expected it, but needed it the most. Joe’s words often served this function, like Sam’s for Frodo’s sake.

 

Despite many incredible challenges, the two Hobbits kept moving onward.

 

They survived Shelob’s onslaught and escaped Gollum’s betrayal. They even pushed forward with the realisation, always in their minds, that there wasn’t enough food for the return trip. Their final stretch through Mordor is the most intense and bleakly described setting in the book. The region is nauseating and filled with pockets of pain and orcs. It was here that I recognized a complete resemblance to my own struggles. It seems like you never get any closer, but you get more and more tired. Yet, within this desolation, the love of Sam grows and carries Frodo further and further. Eventually, Sam literally carries Frodo towards the cave of Mount Doom. This is sainthood. To achieve true love it is not enough to simply care, but we must carry the one we love.

 

Love this strong is real.

 

The Lord of the Rings didn’t appeal to me because it is fanciful, but because it is powerfully descriptive of reality. The setting, races, and lore are fascinating and outlandish, but every person in that story could be a breathing living person. Watching Sam struggle with real life decisions draws to mind the battle of discernment in a loving relationship. It might be argued that Sam’s love would never have become so strong if not for the harrowing nature of such a journey. Heartbreakingly, their bond is cemented only to have Frodo ravaged and affected permanently from his travels and inevitably sent away.

 

It was hard for me to forgive Tolkien, but they had to be separated.

 

Their separation was the ultimate manifestation of their love for one another. They let go, when their emotions said everything contrary, for the sake of the other. Inevitably, I had toseparatemyself from the ones who did so much to help me during my duress. It was less final however, because I still have contact with the people who were so helpful and dear during my dark hour. Joe remains a steadfast friend and support in my pursuit of a University Degree and the fulfillment of my dreams.

 

So to finish my own story, or at least bring it up to the present: Eventually after increasing my boundaries enough to look after my own needs I moved out into a friends house. After a few months of learning to feed and take of myself I felt confident enough to start an easy job. As providence would have it, an old friend who was my boss at a restaurant I once worked in, was now working as the general manager of a nearby branch. To my delight, he took me on as an employee. Like everything else in my recovery, I started small. I worked for three hours, two or three times a week. From there, I worked my way up, and after one year I was working full time as a waiter.

 

In conclusion, Tolkien played an integral role in my realisation that my suffering was united into a greater cause and purpose. Tolkien showed me that no matter how dark my life became, I was struggling for a reason and it was worth the toil. Like Tolkien, I’m using story to convey God’s love and that in Him is the real great pilgrimage. The worst of my recovery is over, but I still have many obstacles to overcome. I do not find myself distraught by my inabilities, but in awe that God walked so closely with me during every step.

 

As the great eagles came in to save the day, exactly like in Tolkien’s story, so I saw the workings of the Holy Spirit in my journey to freedom. I saw the fires of mount doom with my own eyes and tasted the ash of death in my mouth and I looked back upon the most impossible journey and felt Him lift me up and away from the desolation. Like with Frodo, my journey left permanent scars, remnants of the awesome struggle that will never go away. This is a unintended consequence of many great adventures. If I had stayed indoors and shirked the immense risk I took upon myself, for fear of such consequences, I would have brought upon myself an even greater tragedy: I would have denied myself the very occasion to make real the extraordinary, majestic, and beautiful qualities waiting to be born within every person’s life.