He stole his younger brother’s fiancée. He failed to rescue his brother as he lay riddled with bullets on the battlefield. He abandoned his aging father to seek adventure abroad. He returned years later to find his father gnarled and disabled and barely able to speak. Everything Tristan touched turned to heartache.
The film was Legends of the Fall. I sat in the theater as a sixteen year old boy, blindly accepting the fact that everyone loved and admired Tristan despite his many fatal flaws. The pain I saw on Brad Pitt’s face when Tristan first saw his father stumble out the front door. Then the wrinkled crows feet and forced smile as he spoke to his decrepit dad.
I don’t know if it was his goal, but the director succeeded in convincing teenage me that pain makes people more interesting.
Then there’s Finnegan Bell, played by Ethan Hawke. A young boy with no parents navigates the puzzle of young love as a beautiful but tragically damaged girl plays with his heart. His entire life story is a response to being treated like a toy by a woman whose sole purpose seems to be to enact revenge on the male gender for the pain cause her grandmother decades ago.
Characters with complex stories of failure and loss are the most compelling characters. Picture Meredith Grey in Grey’s Anatomy. She grows up estranged from her dad. Her mom is 100% focused on her career. She witnesses her mom’s attempted suicide. Her best friend gets killed. Another friend gets cancer. She gets trapped with her hand on a bomb. She nearly dies in a plane crash. Her sister does die in the plane crash. Her Alzheimer’s riddled mom shames and criticizes her until the day she dies. She drowns and has to be brought back from the dead. Her mentor turns out to be the man responsible for breaking up her parents’ marriage. Her husband dies from a car crash and surgical negligence. Whew! That was exhausting. And I’ve only covered half of her troubles.
And when something bad happens to Meredith Grey, the whole cast of the show acts like the world is in crisis. She’s so important that everyone cares what happens to her. And yet, what has she really done to deserve such popularity and affection?The best stories have real tragedy. Real loss. We feel the pain of the failure. The rejection. The embarrassment.
And when we grow up seeing pain treated as a mark of importance, we can hug our own pain and suffering closely to our chests, as though treasuring a gift from heaven.
What is the alternative? What is poetic about grace and privilege and ease? What’s compelling about rest? It might be something we crave, but it doesn’t make for compelling stories.
When you’re living without trauma or unaware of trauma, grace and ease can be pictures of a Sellout. But once you’re aware that you’ve suffered trauma, grace and ease are highly coveted respites. We all need shelter from the storm sometime.
I’ve been reworking my mindset. Credit goes to The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton for challenging my perception of perception. There’s some dense scientific explanations about cell biology and function, DNA, and cellular proteins, but once you see the cell as the microcosm mirror of the whole human macrocosm, the lessons we can pull from how a cell functions are life changing.
Perception leads to our experience of reality. A change in our perception alters our experience of reality. Where I once found romance and poetry in tragedy and suffering, I now see that my life’s emotional and physical downward spiral was the direct result of those views.
I’ve been on a twelve year journey learning one little step at a time how to find joy in nourishing inputs. I’m still on the journey. I’d love for you to join with me.