We can’t live without the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. That we tell them is as consistent across time, space and culture as the physical makeup of our biology. Our stories give meaning to the experiences of our past. Good. Bad. And everything in between. And in that meaning we find hope for a purposeful future.
Without hope, we have nothing.
I don’t watch movies about the contemporary American wars. It’s not because they trigger traumatic memories or open the old wounds of a tortured war veteran. They don’t. The truth is closer to the contrary. The bad ones don’t trigger anything at all. The good ones just make me miss the old life. And so they don’t make me feel the things I need to feel from the stories I experience if I’m willing to spend a few hours on them instead of the next best alternative.
So, I don’t watch them.
More than anything else over that last decade, I’ve found myself watching super hero movies. It helps that my three boys are 13, 12 and 10 and they love super hero movies too. There’s probably an overly sappy narrative that I could weave about how the Marvel Cinematic Universe gave me and my sons with unique developmental issues something to connect through. That’s a story for another time though. Not an entirely honest one though. Because the real reason I’ve watched a few dozen super hero movies a few dozen times over last decade is because of the parts of the human spirit the Marvel movies help me tap into.
People will read this, roll their eyes, maybe giggle a bit, at my naivety. Others will scowl at my falling prey to the corporate machine that is the modern entertainment industry. The CEO of Disney makes 1400 times that of his median employees after all. And those movies are produced for one reason. To make money.
But what’s also true is that someone made those characters. Someone wrote the scripts. And someone directed the movie. And where those visions came from, money doesn’t matter. Because they’re stories. And we humans are story tellers. We’d tell them for free. We can’t help ourselves.
The Marvel movies are stories of transformation. Of selfless acts. Of loss. And victory. Of purposeful deaths and unconquerable resurrections.
The Marvel heroes aren’t born with their powers. They find them along the away. And in their transformations, we find hope; hope to be saved from whatever it is we’ve assigned our fates to. Hope for ourselves and our own transformations.
The world is not inevitable.
But only if we’ll let go of the cynicism that unburdens us of the exhausting task that hope is.
Last night I took my family to see Avenger’s End Game. I won’t spoil it with details. But I went to the theater feeling like I was about to walk into a funeral I wasn’t ready for. And I walked out of the theater when it was done feeling like I was right.
The story, at its core, is the story of the iron necessity of human hope. And the truth that we simply can’t live with settling for a permanent future that’s not brighter than the pain of our past.
If we try to live without it, what comes in place of the hope for a better day is the worst of us.
We climb to higher peaks. We sail for better shores. We search for something more beyond our horizons. It is the defining trait of our species. And it all runs on hope.
The movie is three hours bathing in that reckoning. For me, it felt like 10 minutes.
My life hasn’t been easy. I’ve been to war and lived through abuse and personal tragedy. I battle the daily struggle of the life-long task of being a special needs parent. This isn’t a fluffy essay by someone who’s resigned to live life vicariously through fantasy movies. I’ve been on the other side of hope. And I’ve had my own purposeful death and triumphant resurrection.
And I can still let something as silly as a super hero movie move me to tears. And I hope I always can.
Now go see the damn movie…