Monday, February 25, 2019

Ancient Longings

Good Monday morning.

I hope all is well in your world on this final Monday in February. If all is not well in your world, I hope you at least have a hot cup of coffee to nurse while you read this. 

We took a little road trip over the weekend, & so naturally what you'll be treated to momentarily are a handful of photos interspersed with some marginally deep thoughts inspired by the events of the aforementioned road trip. 

I had some time to scroll through the pictures on my phone's camera roll while I was traveling to & from Dallas this past weekend (I was not doing the driving). I realized I've been snapping photos & then neglecting to share them because, well, life is moving quickly (& I am kind of lazy at times).

These next two pictures were taken several weeks ago. It was a Friday night, & I was driving alone to meet the book club ladies. Traveling toward my entrance to the Interstate I looked to my right & was so taken by the fog rising from this field I pass every day I looked in my rearview mirror &, seeing I was alone on the road, I stopped the car momentarily, rolled down the passenger window,  & snapped these. I sat there for a beat too long, I suppose waiting to see if one of Austen's leading men would emerge on horseback. I noted to myself that I am, at thirty-eight, officially an elderly person, willing as I apparently am to halt traffic to take a picture of nature's best work. 

The lovely scene I encountered & attempted to capture on the way to my book club meeting that night was a harbinger of things to come. It was a perfect evening spent eating pizza that rivals the pizza I've had in New York while the ladies & I discussed January's book, Becoming Mrs. Lewis. I shared a few thoughts about that book a few weeks ago, & you can read those ---> here if you missed them. 

Other February gems I've neglected to share: 

So, the road trip. Several months ago Trey let me know that for one special weekend in February the Dallas Symphony Orchestra would be performing The Little Mermaid live to accompany the film. You may recall Trey & Reagan & I attended a showing & live performance of Jurassic Park in the fall. Until the moment we were seated for Jurassic Park I didn't quite understand what was going to happen. Had I known they were going to show the actual film accompanied by the symphony I might have made other arrangements for Reagan. I had to cover her eyes during certain scenes so as to prevent nightmares about flesh-eating dinosaurs.

Despite my concerns for Reagan, our Jurassic Park experience was wonderful, & so of course I jumped at the chance for the four of us to attend a similar showing/performance of The Little Mermaid. Ultimately we ended up traveling to Dallas with two carloads of people. Trey's parents & my dad joined us. My dear mother could not go as she was accompanying my grandfather to Houston where he had a procedure to address polyps on his colon. When my Papaw was in his eighties doctors discovered some growths on his colon. The doctors said that given his age at that time he'd likely die before the growths became problematic, so they did nothing. Well, update: my Papaw is ninety-two, & last week he had a procedure at MDAnderson to address the growths on his colon. 

We all headed out Friday morning. I don't often pull the kids from school, but for The Little Mermaid (plus an arguably cultural experience of enjoying the thrill of live music) I made an exception. Trey & my father-in-law drove to Dallas in near constant rain. The kids opted to ride with Trey's parents, so this left me in the backseat of Trey's car listening to my dad voice his concerns over Trey's driving. The whole experience was strangely satisfying. In my head I was saying, "See, Trey, you do follow too closely. I am not the only one who finds this to be the case." 

Upon arriving in Dallas, we dropped our bags at our hotel, ate some wonderful Mexican food, & headed downtown to mingle with other sophisticated people who appreciate culture. 

When we attended Jurassic Park in concert there was a Jurassic Park jeep parked outside the venue for photo opportunities. I was kind of hoping Prince Eric might be there Friday night to mingle & take pictures, but no such luck. I settled for a photo with each of the children before we headed to our seats. 

Reagan was not interested in a selfie with me once we were seated, but Trey obliged. 

The movie was of course wonderful. It had been a long time since I sat & watched all of The Little Mermaid. To watch it while the music is performed live is truly incredible. It is a reminder of how much music adds to film. It is a reminder that music is, like art & literature, a truly incredible, generous gift from the Father, one of many ways the spark of the Divine, the spark of our Creator, manifests itself in us. 

In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis says this:

"The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things — the beauty, the memory of our own past — are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."

As I sat & watched Ariel's story unfold I had a few thoughts I will attempt to articulate momentarily, but before I share those thoughts here's how the rest of the weekend went:

Saturday morning we hit the hotel's free breakfast (that Trey & I explained to the children was not truly free since the cost is included in the price of the room), & then we headed to the Galleria where Reagan spent some time alone with her Grandmama & her Grandmama's wallet. 

After an hour or so of doing our own thing in the Galleria (during which time I was all alone in Macy's which was of course was amazing) we all gathered for lunch at the Grand Lux Cafe. We ate a delicious lunch while watching LSU's men defeat Tennessee in basketball; Reagan & I took photos of ourselves to text to Nana who was journeying home from Houston. 

It's hard to say which was the true highlight of lunch: LSU's basketball victory or the appetizer of pot roast cheese fries I ordered. Both were immensely satisfying. You might see "pot roast cheese fries" on the menu & think, "Oh, gag." Over the years I've learned that most anything is worth trying at the Grand Lux Cafe, & these were incredible.  

Friday evening was not the first time I've spent more than a few minutes intellectually considering the possible layers of meaning in The Little Mermaid. The Little Mermaid is not without her critics, & when I was a graduate student I was formally introduced to a handful of people (okay, a handful of women) who find The Little Mermaid highly problematic. 

When I was in graduate school one of my professors gave us an article to read that was highly critical of The Little Mermaid. I've tried to find a link to the article, but so far I've had no luck. I am sure I have a hard copy somewhere buried in my papers from graduate school. Disney has come under fire for creating unrealistic expectations for young girls, sending them the message that happiness equals finding your Prince Charming, & perhaps no Disney film is as maligned as The Little Mermaid. My purpose today is of course to explain to you why The Little Mermaid is amazing. 

The heart of the critics arguments re: Disney films is this: While searching for & attempting to secure their prince, Disney's princesses are usually left to their own devices, bereft of the guidance of any strong, likable mother figure (Disney's films are misogynistic so say the critics). Belle of Beauty and the Beast has an absent-minded father & no mother. Cinderella is surrounded by evil women who wish her harm. Ariel's predicament is considered by many critics to be the most appalling. She is so desperate to become human in order to be with Prince Eric that she tangles with the horrid Sea Witch, Ursula, a grotesque figure who demands Ariel give up her voice in exchange for a human form. This was the sticking point for the author of the article I was assigned in grad school: Ariel, an impressionable young woman giving up her voice (which of course the author saw as metaphorical,) to be with a man.

I've always loved The Little Mermaid. While Eric is, I believe, the loveliest of the Disney princes, Ariel is not the princess to whom I naturally gravitate. Belle is probably the Disney lead with whom I most readily identify, but there is something about Ariel's story (I mean aside from Eric) that resonates with me. It occurs to me that Ariel's longing for a human form is one of the things that's always intrigued me about the film. Ariel loves a human, a species different from her own, & she begins exploring her options. This dilemma isn't exclusive to Ariel, however, nor is it limited to animated Disney characters. Belle falls in love with the ornery, inhuman Beast without knowing that her love will transform him into the handsome prince he once was. Bella (of Twilight fame) wants to be transformed into a vampire so she can spend forever with her vampire love, the immortal, beautiful Edward. Bella knows what Ariel knows; she must be fundamentally transformed in order to spend eternity with the man with whom she is captivated. Both women believe their beloved to be worth the sacrifice, & in fact neither of these women would use the word sacrifice to describe the transformation they so fervently desire.

Bella joins Ariel on a long list of female protagonists many critics hate. Also on this list is a Hemingway character named Catherine Barkley. I was, in times past, so obsessed with defending Catherine Barkley, a female character critics love to hate, that I first wrote a paper about her as an undergraduate English major & then, later in my life, I wrote a whole book I may've mentioned a time or two about a graduate student who gets really mad when people insult Catherine Barkley. Seriously, I did.

From Ariel to Bella to Clark Kent transforming into Superman, we are fascinated by the idea of becoming something beyond ourselves, & one way to do that is to love someone who is, at least in our eyes, more than we are, better than we are in some way, whose love will transform us. Our films & our literature are filled with characters desperate to transform themselves. This theme is, as we know from Beauty and the Beast, a tale as old as time. Does this ring a bell? It should. It's what Christ did for us. He didn't give up his human form in order to become a vampire or shed his mermaid fins in order to walk on two feet; Christ gave up equality with God because it was the only way to prevent Him from being permanently separated from those He loves. He did this knowing some would never reciprocate His love or understand & appreciate His sacrifice. It's the greatest transformation story there is, & it is no wonder the idea continues to permeate our culture. I have said it before & I will now say it again: part of the appeal of Twilight is that at its heart it is a story about a young woman who seeks to be transformed into an immortal being in order to spend eternity with a man who proves he is willing to sacrifice for her. Is it cheesy at times? Yes. Are there some irritating plot holes? Yes. Is the premise of the story the most basic, ancient storyline there is? Yes.

Christ gave up equality with God to become a man so that we might one day in turn transform ourselves, die to ourselves & our selfish desires, in order to be with Him forever. Hans Christian Anderson did not write that story. Disney did not write that story. Hemingway did not write that story. Stephenie Meyer did not write that story. The God of the universe is the author of that story. 

Love is transformative. The preoccupation we have with transformative love is not an accident. We are drawn to tell & write & read these stories because they are threads of the larger tapestry that is our story. The world's message is that it is silly to subvert your will, your desires, in order to make someone else happy, to serve someone else. The world tells you to worry about & promote & love you first.

I am going to tell you what maybe few other people will, young ladies: there is a reason the church is referred to as the bride of Christ. Christ died for her, He purchased her with His precious, innocent blood, & she in turn loves Him & serves Him. Find you a man who is worthy, & love him & serve him; if he is indeed worthy he will also humbly love & serve you. The idea of a Prince Charming who will whisk you away to his castle where you'll live happily ever after is not an idea invented by men wishing to sell young girls unattainable dreams & merchandise. The blueprint there is literally written in Heaven, & it is written on our hearts. We mangle the execution in horrible ways at times, but the ideal of a man & a woman dying first to themselves in order to live for Christ & allow Him to transform them &, in turn, joining themselves in order to please & serve each other until Christ calls them home is Biblical.

This is the full quote from which I've excerpted a portion above: 

"Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."

― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

It is perfectly fine if love transforms you. It should change you. I love that Lewis uses the house/palace metaphor in this passage above because it calls to mind the Disney princesses & the palaces in which they desire to live with their princes. A palace is a worthy destination, but remember that you are His palace, His workmanship, if you let Him & His love transform you. When the object of your affection is worthy of your love, it is fine & even expected that you lose yourself in Him. 

I hope this tutorial on the messages Disney is *actually* sending young ladies has been helpful or at least mildly interesting. I will, the Lord willing, be back in March with more photos of nature and/or my children & more semi-coherent ramblings about what I've been watching and/or reading.

Have a wonderful week. 


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