Saturday, January 12, 2013
The Big Things vs. The Small Things
Today I have a treat for you all. My friend (and my daughter's mother-in-law) has agreed to share her thoughts on Les Miserables. Thanks so much, Leslie! And welcome to The Winding Ascent. I also want to share a link to a very insightful article comparing Les Mis to a current political crisis we're facing here in America -- what to do about illegal immigration. I'm still not sure where I sit on this issue. Probably somewhere in the middle? And it isn't a perfect comparison, by any stretch. But food for thought!
The Big Things vs. The Small Things
by Leslie Noelani Laurio
I saw Les Miserables this week. I'm familiar with the story -- I've listened to Focus on the Family's audio-drama, read about 4/5 of the book, and heard the soundtrack often enough to have memorized most of the songs. Les Miserables is epic, full of the drama of lives played out against the even bigger drama of life just after the French Revolution and before society settled into any real semblance of order. Everything about it is epic -- the story, the misery, the music, the sacrifices.
But what struck me about the movie was the small incidences of love and generosity sprinkled throughout the larger drama. Fantine's sacrifice of everything she had to give for her little daughter, Valjean's love for Cosette that redeemed the lives of both him and Cosette, Eponine's generous acts to help Marius meet Cosette even when she knew it meant he'd be lost to her forever.
I was familiar with all of those sacrifices from listening to the soundtrack so many times. But there's a small scene in the movie that isn't on the soundtrack. It involves the fiery and passionate leader of the young revolutionaries, Enjolras. One of the young men who follows him is Grantaire, a skeptic who doesn't believe in the revolution or anything else, but "Grantaire admired, loved, and venerated Enjolras." When the end has come and the revolution has failed, Enjolras is about to meet his demise, and Grantaire walks up beside him to join him so they can die together. Grantaire isn't willing to give his life for the revolution, but he's willing to give his life for his friend. "Greater love hath no man . . ."
Enjolras had a dream of doing big things, of giving his life for a cause that would change the world, but his life is a tragic waste, given up for a failed attempt. As it turns out, it isn't the big things done in a big way that make a difference. It's the small, personal acts of generosity that make differences on a much smaller stage. The Bishop didn't evangelize large crowds, but his gift saved one man from a life of certain doom. Valjean didn't save the world, but he saved one little girl from a life of slavery. Eponine died poor and forgotten, but she helped to bring about the happiness of the young man she loved. All small things compared to the larger world of hunger and oppression and misery, but they are the only changes that were real. The people who attempted to change the world -- Enjolras with his young revolutionaries attempting to save France from oppression, and Javert attempting to save society from some abstract injustice -- effected no change at all. It was acts of simple generosity that had impact.
Charlotte Mason had much to say about simple generosity. "The nature of Generosity is to bring forth, to give, always at the cost of personal suffering or deprivation, little or great." Les Miserables presents beautiful and sometimes tragic examples of this kind of generosity in action. Rather than spending our lives dreaming of some big, heroic deed we'll do that will save the world, it might be more effective to look around at those people around us in the circumstances we've been placed, and make a difference in smaller ways, one life at a time, lest "while we are dreaming we are letting all our chances of doing slip by us."