Wednesday, October 13, 2010



Do you ever think about how difficult it is to stop believing in something, even when the truth is staring you in the face?

I have a confession to make (and don't let small children read this!!!) - I believed in Santa Claus for far too long. There was a good reason for this - I was told something by an adult which implied that a gift I received for Christmas didn't exist yet in the stores, and so the logical conclusion as a child was that Santa must have created it - I mean, isn't that his whole bag? Being magical?

I held on to this experience and belief, despite all the evidence to the contrary, until my father finally put me out of my misery. I was pretty upset about it, but I see now how the tenacity of that belief resided in large part out of the lived experience that confirmed it. Some shopkeeper's mistake became a truth that I was unwilling to part with.

But the reality is that I must have also wanted to believe. I mean, I don't want to psychoanalyse my young self, but there must have been a deep desire on my part to believe that there was some magic in the world.

Part of growing up is recognizing that there isn't this kind of magic in the world. But it often feels as though we don't just give up on magic, instead we move away from magical creatures and onto something like, say, romantic love.

It was easy to believe in something ephemeral as Santa Claus, so how much easier it is to believe in someone real, especially when the person who loves you back confirms that belief incessantly! It is like a thousand incompetent shopkeepers telling you what you want to hear each and every day! Santa Claus is really real!

How much more entrenched this kind of magical belief becomes! Even when you are faced with the fact that this belief in someone is no longer real, it is that much more difficult to stop childhood, when you stop believing in that person, one often finds that it takes everything with them. So sometimes it seems to make more sense to keep believing.

Oddly enough, it was Revenge of the Sith that got me thinking about this. As I've mentioned before, my son has become a big Star Wars fan, and I have developed a form of cinematic Stockholm Syndrome from having viewed the most recent films a number of times.

Anyway, my son enjoys watching the opening sequence of Revenge of the Sith, with the space battle and the lightsabers and the robots. However, once we get past the first 20 minutes, he wants to do something else, like play. But it was in the DVD player a few mornings ago, so I decided to watch the whole thing.

(A warning - I know that analysing Star Wars seems ridiculous, but you take things as they come!)

Although George Lucas gets knocked around a lot, he described the whole series of films as a "domestic tragedy", and I think that's about right. And what separates this film from the other prequels is that we actually find ourselves identifying with Anakin's decision, because the entire movie revolves around Anakin's preoccupation with his wife.

His turn to evil centres on his love for his wife and desire to protect her. But I realised watching Anakin destroy everything to save Padme was that he was really doing was trying to save himself from his own pain.

This is the dark underbelly of sacrificing for our beliefs, is it not? That in sacrificing everything for love, one is also trying to end the possibility of their own suffering, their own loss? That the burnt offering you provide will ensure the gods forever look favourably on you? That there is selfishness in that selflessness?

It feels as though we exchange one kind of pain for another - the pain of the present, of what is there, to foreclose the possibility of pain in the future. But as life always demonstrates, things don't work this way, especially in love, because no matter how much one might sacrifice, it might be too much for the other - at the end of the day, no one can imagine Padme at the end of the film looking at Anakin and saying "sure, you've just killed a bunch of children, but I'll be OK with you raising mine".

Although we might not do what he does (obviously!), we understand his transformation, there is something human about it, as troubling as that is. We even understand why he cannot go back on his belief, terrible as it is. Once he is lost, he is lost, and although one might wish that we alone can rescue ourselves from our darkest thoughts, it is usually only with others, those who care about us, where one can find the space in which to heal ourselves.

Moreover, he has to keep believing because he is alone - who can he possibly let go to when the one person who might have saved him, his wife, is no longer there? And in trying to save himself from his own pain, he reifies it - indeed, the suit becomes the physical manifestation of his failure to control his own pain from the outset. He spends his life embodying the very pain he tried so desperately to avoid.

Nevertheless, does one remain alone in their lost belief, or barring the return of the object of that belief, do they sacrifice that belief in the hope that they might again believe? In the end it remains about believing, because the price of total disbelief seems much too high...

Or maybe it's just me. Although I bask in the cool light of the Enlightenment, I cannot escape the reality that I am probably at my core a Romantic...

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