The Thing I Like About …

Agent Carter: when she says she knows her value.

Peggy Carter goes to a lot of effort, risking her job, her reputation, her freedom and even her life. She does this to defeat the forces of evil. She finds the bad guy, she stops the bad guy … and she stands by her desk and watches silently as all the men in the office get the credit.

After this sad turn of events, one of her male colleagues points out that it isn’t fair for her to have done all the work without even the slightest recognition. She shrugs.

“I know my value,” she explains.

She doesn’t explain that she “understands how the world works” or that she “knows what others think of her”; she doesn’t huff and puff and say sarcastically, “Well, I guess I know where I fit in!” She obviously does know how the world works. She obviously doesn’t expect any particular accolades for her contribution. She probably is a little irritated by that situation. But it doesn’t matter to her.

She knows her value – her actual value. The actual worth of her actions. The true outcome of all that she has done. She knows her value as an agent and as a person, and she doesn’t require anybody else’s validation. She never seeks it, but instead keeps her eyes on the prize (defeating evil, saving the world, typical stuff). She never worries about it, or mourns it. She doesn’t need others to see her as important, because she already knows that she is.

Fighting off evil and saving the world have obvious outcomes; it’s pretty easy, I suppose, to look at your evil-vanquishing activities and see your successes. Usually, though, we’re not fighting Nazis or Hydra, or doing anything so clearly important. Usually we’re just living our lives – making breakfast, raising kids, loving our friends … making mistakes, paying off debt, micro-analyzing our appearance. We spend oh-so-much time trying to craft ourselves into people who are beautiful (to others), who are needed (by others), who are acceptable (to others).

It isn’t that the men in Peggy’s office should not reconsider their method of giving and receiving accolades. It isn’t that we shouldn’t validate others’ efforts, or praise their successes, or tell them they’re important. It’s that “others” shouldn’t be any more important than we are – what are their credentials, after all, for deciding what is and isn’t a valuable contribution or person? Why should we give our assessment of our worth to people who might be swayed by, oh, I don’t know, “that’s just how the world works”?

We don’t need others to see us as important. We can already know that we are.

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The Thing I Like About …

Phonebooth: when he starts telling the truth.

In Phonebooth, publicist Stu Shepard finds himself trapped in a phone booth, at the mercy of a man who has called the pay phone and is willing to kill passersby if Stu doesn’t do exactly what he tells him to do. The caller (who has a rifle and has already killed someone in a way that frames Stu) is somewhere close by, but Stu can’t see him. Stu is helpless to do anything except stay on the line, and listen to a stranger tell him that he can go as soon as he’s learned his lesson and told the truth.

Eventually, Stu’s wife, the client he has a crush on, his work-intern, and what seems to be the entire constabulary of the city are gathered around this phone booth, trying to talk Stu down (because they all still believe that he’s the shooter). The caller threatens both Stu’s wife and his pretty client, forcing Stu finally to make a choice – tell the truth, or these women pay the price.

Stu leans out of the phone booth, and tells the truth.

He tells his wife the truth about the client. He tells his client the truth about his marriage and his motives. He tells his intern the truth about being a publicist. He tells the truth about his suits. He tells the truth about his fears and shortcomings. He tells the truth about his soul.

It isn’t just that this is a powerful moment in the film; it’s that so many of us have been there (usually without the deranged caller taking potshots at our loved ones). We’ve all been asked to face the truth about ourselves, and all too often we’ve continued our façades, our half-truths, our face-saving maneuvers … protecting our pride at the expense of our relationships and our own happiness. But underneath it all, we know the truth. No matter how far down we bury the truth, we all know ourselves. We all know.

When Stu tells his truth, it sets him free, rather literally. Maybe if we can be as brave, we can be free too.

A Countdown for the Holidays

The Wisdom of Pinhead: Part Four
“He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake …”*

Last year for Christmas, I blogged about my favourite part of Hellraiser V: Inferno.  I talked about how Pinhead’s dark, scary message was really a cautionary Christmas tale – avoid superficiality and selfishness and embrace what really matters, or, you know, pay horribly forever.  I realized afterward that Pinhead has always had some very Christmas-y things to say … when seen in the right light.  So this year, I will be presenting a Pinhead-Christmas-personal empowerment-happy-joy-countdown.  At the end of it, I hope readers – Christian and non-Christian alike – are more disposed to find the love and joy the Christmas holiday represents.

And maybe they’ll want to watch the movies too.

Kirsty Cotton: I’ve come for my father!
[the Cenobites laugh at that]
Pinhead: But he is in his own Hell, child, and quite unreachable.
Kirsty Cotton: I don’t believe you!
Pinhead: But it’s true. He is in his own Hell, just as you are in yours.

Only in life can we suffer; after our death, our troubles are over, as they say.  But this doesn’t mean that life is only suffering – quite the opposite: life is also beautiful and wondrous and good.  In this quote, Pinhead reveals that his “Hell” is for the living, that his “clients” choose consciously to open the box while alive, and bring Hell upon themselves with their own actions and desires … and after they’re dead, they will be as far from Pinhead’s reach as all those who avoided the box and its delights entirely.

What does this mean for you and me?  It means that we make our hells for ourselves.  It means that we really don’t know what happens after we’re dead, until we die.  It means that, just as life can be suffering, it can also be joy, or despair, or loss, or bliss – and that, far more than we usually realize, what life is for each of us is under our own control.

It also means that, whether we like it or not, whether we believe or not, whatever thing we may believe in, absolutely none of us knows – really knows – what’s waiting for us after that last breath.  Some of us have glimpses, some of us see wonders that give us some comfort, but in the end, even Hell doesn’t know what happens.  In the end, we’ll just have to accept that death is a mystery … because if we don’t, that lingering fear of death and its uncertainty will turn us into little, stressed-out globules of anger who are always quarreling with one another to distract ourselves from our own worry.

Kind of like the way we already do it.

So maybe for the holidays – or all year round, if we feel we’re up to it – we can reorganize some of our burdens.  We can agree to be in charge of our own lives here – to accept the consequences of our actions, to recognize that so very often we make our own pain and suffering.  We can stop wasting our living moments searching for death, and instead allow whatever god may exist to be in charge of the afterlife.  We can stop creating Hell on earth in all manner of creative ways, and instead let Pinhead be in charge of Hell.

He seems to doing a much fairer job of it than we do.

* “Santa Claus is comin’ to town” by Coots and Gillespie