Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Will Smith, Grief, and Christmas

I went to a movie the other evening. I went alone because it felt a necessary and desired offering on the 4-month anniversary since my father passed away. Four months. I’ve seen September, October, November, and half of December come and go without him. I’ve passed through my oldest’s birthday, my husband’s birthday, a Halloween, an historic election, and Thanksgiving without him. And right around the corner is Christmas. I have yet to determine if it is kindness or cruelty in grief that so many significant days are packed into such a short period of time.

I needed sanctuary. A place of remembrance that allowed me the chance to honor a life, and a death, that has forever changed me. My altar was a big screen and a reclining leather seat. My dad loved movies. I suppose that’s where I got it my affinity for cinema, so it seemed fitting to find myself on this anniversary in a place doing something we both love. 

I didn’t know what I was hoping to accomplish in that dark theater. I didn’t really go with any kind of expectation. That fact, in and of itself, was a gift. 

I parked, froze as I walked from the van to the lobby, bought my solitary ticket, and found a seat among 20 strangers who had also chosen to see Collateral Beauty.

It’s a movie about grief. It’s a movie about life. It’s a movie about what we do with three abstractions: love, time, and death. Although the movie is filled with Hollywood heavyweights, it plays out as a fairly predictable and contrived storyline. Even still, there are some lovely moments where Will Smith’s vulnerability gives the onlooker the permission to grieve along with him.

I had no epiphany during the film. No moment of clarity as the credits rolled. I got up from my seat, walked back to the van, and went home. If I was sure of anything it was that I was glad I had been there. Glad to have followed through and spent a portion of that difficult day at the movies.

Now, days later, I recognize something more. Spending 97 minutes watching Collateral Beauty was the embodiment of Advent reality. The film clearly invites the audience to enter into grief, but if you accept the invitation you aren’t alone. What the film gave me was a chance to be okay with everything I might be feeling and my reactions to those feelings because I am not alone. The raw grief of the fictional Howard Inlet is a reminder that we all connect with grief because we all “bear the wound.” I am not alone in my grief. 

That’s the message of Christmas. We aren't alone. God wrapped Himself in flesh and bone and stepped into time, and in doing so He showed us there is nothing we experience by ourselves. He’s been there. He’s done that. He’s gotten the t-shirt. For grief. For being misunderstood. For the joy of genuine friendship. For being hungry. For fighting to accept the reality in front of Him. He’s walked the road. He’s lived in that neighborhood. You and I aren't by ourselves through any of it. 

Christmas says God really is Emmanuel - the God who is with us. Peering into the Bethlehem manger doesn’t erase my grief. It doesn’t eliminate the struggle of adjusting to life without my dad. But the swaddled baby reminds me I don’t do any of it by myself. I am not alone. And today, that will be enough for me.

The Word became flesh and blood, 
and moved into the neighborhood. 
We saw the glory with our own eyes, 
the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, 
generous inside and out, true from start to finish. 
- John 1:14 (MSG) -

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