Recently, my family and I watched two movies deemed by their fans to be classic celebrations of the magic of childhood. The two take place in profoundly different cultures on opposite sides of the globe, but both—in their own ways—involve the magical bursting into the everyday, celebrate innocent wonder, and affirm the importance of family. One of them is, alas, much less well-known in the United States than the other. That one is Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro, and the other is Peter Pan (the Broadway version, starring Cathy Rigby). I had seen both many times before, but on these reviewings, I noticed some remarkable contrasts in their perspectives on childhood and growing up.
All you who weary of living,
All you tear-blinded who stumble,
Finding the road unforgiving,
Feeling your strength slip and crumble,
Though blood from your hands be streaming,
And the cross your backs encumber,
Through this night one star is gleaming:
Strength Himself is of our number!
Though we be lonely and desolate,
And our faith’s rock-bed be shaken,
We have not lost our last, nor yet
Are we completely forsaken.
That Lord so battered and slandered
Rises like flame of the morn,
Raising His unconquered standard,
Winding His summoning horn!
Rise up to heed His call!
Hail it, for ‘tis addressed
To weary suff’rers all,
Worn, wounded and oppressed.
All earth He means to win;
All souls who dwell therein
Rise as to Him they fall;
His cross, His weapon blest.
That conquest we may share,
All we who crosses bear,
Strange triumph if we dare
To love Him best!
Let us not drag like slaves
Burdened and raddled,
But with our King who saves,
Fight even to our graves,
As knights embattled!
Shall we not now perceive?
Hasten, all who believe;
Though all our hearts may grieve
And bones be rattled,
Let us live well and die
Knowing for Whom and why—
He leads us, riding by,
On ass-charger saddled!
Hark what we have to win!
Pulling from swamps of sin
Our souls and others’ in
Strength of His power;
Gaining, through patient fight,
Ever a higher height,
Up toward the world of light,
Hour by hour!
All of our bloody tears
Sowing our battlefield,
By our feet hoed, will yield
Fruit past the years,
From faith-laid seed appears
When we hear glad and resounding
His final blast o’er the earth,
All these grim foes now surrounding
Will, like the womb-walls at birth,
Burst away, and we will gather
Into our King’s lightsome hall,
No more blood-streaming, but rather,
Streaming His joy in its all.
Shall we not then rouse our spirits
And stand our ground this one night,
Knowing that we need not fear its
Dark, who have drunk of His light?
Faith’s light kindles Love’s blazing heat,
We fight by its heavenly glow,
Bleeding, but ne’er in defeat—
Till morning His triumph will show!
This piece is not what you might think. I’m not going to tell you how to get your dream job, climb the corporate ladder, navigate social circles, or make an obvious impact on society. I won’t tell you those things, partly because I don’t know them, but also because I want to challenge their status as the definition of success.
College students and new graduates hear a good deal about “success,” but are likely to receive very mixed signals about the particular goals in question. When our mainstream culture speaks of “succeeding,” it tends to have some sort of economic or social ends in mind. Land a well-paying job, achieve recognition in your field of work, acquire the means to live in comfort and security, and you’re probably a “success” by this assessment. The more noble-minded raise this standard to include making a useful contribution to the world, which is well and good, though I will bring in an important nuance later. Schools with a strong Christian outlook, like my alma mater, also emphasize building up the kingdom of God and winning the world to Christ. This is also, undoubtedly, an important and worthy aim. Any one of these, however, can become dangerous if new alumni make it the measure of themselves and their lives.
Kymrei had never heard of anyone descending below the canopy, that shadowy underworld of mysterious dangers. Much less had she ever expected to do so herself.
It all began on that year’s Day of Flight, the day she had been eagerly anticipating for most of her life. So much had been leading up to this point—the early rides behind her father or mother on the avyars’ backs, her first lessons in how to sit the saddle and work the harness with her feet, her solitary flights for the last couple of years among the branches of the Western Arbor. In the few months before this day, she had practiced with particular industry, flying in all the permitted areas and reviewing every tactic and trick she knew. Then, in the last couple of weeks, she had made her own riding garb, light and comfortable but strong, in the deep blue and white that marked her family. For her emblem, she had chosen a sunburst surrounded with stars, the only image that seemed to convey properly the excitement that she felt.
Now, at last, the day had come. Summer had arrived, and for Kymrei and all the Western Arbor’s youth in their fifteenth summer, it was their Day of Flight. After today, she would be a woman, free to do all the things grown men and women did. Her avyar, Aino, she would no longer have to borrow from the Keeper and ride only in a few places—he would be hers, and she could fly on him wherever she pleased. After this morning . . . they had only to follow the Keeper of the avyars all around the island, showing that they had mastered the art of flying the creatures and could overcome the tricks of land and sky.
The silence is tremendous here;
My heart is sore and dry;
I’ve wrung out every bloody tear
And found it good to cry.
This emptiness that’s taken hold
Seems to be listening
For some word that cannot be told
Except in suffering.
I listen with my weary soul,
My spirit limp and still;
Like water welling in a hole,
Fair sights my worn mind fill.
The branches this spot encompass
And sprinkle streams of sun;
Leaves glowing green like bits of glass
Quiver while breezes run.
The grass gleams back; the insects whirl;
The flowers softly glow;
Blithe birds and little roguish squirrel
All scurrying by me go.
And spread out on majestic high,
Its blue and white aflame
With golden sun, the evening sky,
O’er all my world the same.
All these are breathing out to me
A signal growing strong,
One thought—joy, joy—pulsing lightly,
A sweet and throbbing song.
“Why joy?” I ask. “What is there here
That should my spirit start?
What does your beauty frail to clear
The burden in my heart?”
Swift they reply, “Man, we are more
Than only what you see.
Our beauty is not idle, for
It speaks reality.
“Such is your Father, such His hand!
Spilling His splendors forth,
Scatt’ring them so you’ll understand
How His love sets your worth!”
“Are you His splendors, then?” say I.
“Yet you are not like Him;
For you too change, and slip, and die—
Small joy in what grows dim.”
Swift they reply, “Rejoice we must,
And you too, more than all.
We each are bound to die in dust
Since Adam’s grievous fall;
“And so we groan in longing, yes,
But longing not in vain;
There runs a song of hopefulness
Through sun and cloud and rain;
“For in the second Adam’s rise
We all are made anew,
And though death swallow earth and skies
‘Tis but a passing through.
“O learn now what the seedling shows,
That all your suffering
Is but the sowing of what grows
Unto far greater spring.
“Rejoice with us, be sown with us,
And fear ye not to dream
That all griefs may joy-blossom thus,
However sight may seem.”
So is it thus that flowers fall,
That suns wear out and die,
That loss besieges sinners all
Beneath the dimming sky—
So that all things, consumed and spent,
May keep what seedlings hold,
And with the One Who death-bars rent
Spring up a hundredfold?
I see it not, it seems so far,
Yet this I shall not lose,
This glimpsing of the things that are—
This I embrace and choose.
The Spirit that gives silent things
A mission and a voice
In silence stills my questionings
And calls me to rejoice.
Sorry, I can’t pretend to be objective here. Michel Ocelot’s Tales of the Night is simply a joy—not a perfect film, but a lyrical celebration of art and imagination, its assortment of stories sparkling like a jeweled mosaic.
Of course, it comes to us from abroad (specifically, from France, in a combined effort of NordQuest Films, Studio O, and Studio Canal). No American studio would produce such a film. The animation is simple, low-budget work, relying on lavish artistry rather than cutting-edge technology, much like The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea (both of which, like Tales of the Night, were brought to the United States by GKIDS). Characters are black silhouettes with eyes, but the backgrounds are a riot of color and detail: flowers and branches, castle walls, a Gothic-style rose window, skies sprinkled with stars or streaked with pink and gold. Almost every frame is shot from the side, giving the images the feel of elaborate dioramas. The six eponymous tales, though none lack some form of excitement, are presented with fairy-tale simplicity and matter-of-factness, without attempts to sensationalize. Why can’t we get more movies like this?
Long, long ago, in the primeval depths of Chaos, a hideous monster was spawned. The sin of Adam unleashed it on the earth, permitting it to ravage him and his offspring. It crept up so stealthily that its victims might not even notice until after it had taken hold, sinking in teeth and claws, after which it destroyed any who did not fight it well. Or rather, it creeps, it destroys; the monster roams the world still. In fact, you’ve probably encountered it . . . it goes by the unassuming name of Insecurity.
Insecurity may be defined as habitual fear of one’s own inadequacies and what others may think of them. It might seem a fairly innocuous problem, calling simply for a pat on the shoulder and assurance that, as One Direction put it, “You don’t know you’re beautiful!” Such responses are good in themselves; indeed, sincere affirmation is crucial for these sufferers. But if offered too glibly, this approach treats their affliction as harmless and perhaps even charming, a sort of excessive modesty. It overlooks not only the intense pain that insecurity causes, but the potential damage to the person’s soul and relationships with others.
To clarify, insecurity is not, in itself, a sin, nor is the person who suffers from it usually to blame. Far be it from me to be hard on any who have endured this monster’s cruel torments. Such a person is, however, at fault if he does not work to overcome his insecure tendencies. If he does not understand this, he may not realize the importance of fighting back. If you, dear reader, have noticed this affliction in your own heart, I hope to help you reject and break free of the thoughts that it inspires in you.
You raise all sorts of flowers, bright splendor from the dirt;
Their beauty thanks, rewards you, in speech of fragrant words.
But when it comes to washing that hundredth smelly shirt,
Scrubbing that thousandth plate off, or picking bunny turds,
Or raking through the thicket of toys and who knows what,
Or once again erasing that pencilled backwards 5,
Or cutting food for hours, yourself oft getting cut,
Vacuum, detergent, wet wipes, grocery bags, miles to drive—
These may not seem as lovely, their fruits meager and mean;
Scarce color or sweet fragrance floats up your work to hail;
Scant thanks on earth for toils of the domestic queen,
No praises for her battle when chaos-weeds assail.
Yet eyes of higher justice, that watch the hidden things,
Observe her life of giving and see there nothing small;
For her is kept a splendor beyond the themes man sings,
Where something fair shall blossom from humble labors all.
And know you that your efforts are altered even now,
By wise and mighty wonder, to sweet resplendent bloom,
Glowing bright hues exquisite, all gathered—who knows how?—
Around the King of Heaven, His high throne to perfume.
Twenty long centuries back through Earth’s story,
Broken man heard gracious words from her Son,
“I came to lead up the fallen to glory,
Seeking the lost, lest sin bring them undone.”
So she, one century past, came descending
Out from the splendor and peace near His throne,
Down ‘mid the ugliness and hate unending
That men were reaping, as first they had sown.
She came, our Mother! all mercy and brightness,
Strong seaside beacon, all blazing with grace,
Seeing in tattered souls the divine likeness
Hurtling through lonely chasms of space.
Through humble messengers she gave her warning:
“Turn now from sins, lest they tear you apart!
Answer my Son with your love, not with scorning;
Come and learn virtue from your Mother’s heart.”
Her chosen seers, they saw her heart bleeding;
With Heaven’s sight she saw all, maybe wept,
For she beheld many loved children speeding
Through empty lives, faith and pledges unkept;
Swarms of the suffering, deep rivers running
Thick with the flow of their blood and their tears;
Cold, careless souls all the agony shunning;
Stony eyes seeing naught but what appears.
Yet in her breast her Son’s own heart beat truly,
His will, His love, were hers, burning to bless;
Dear Mother, gathering her children newly,
Clement Queen, pouring forth Heaven’s largesse!
By words and wisdom, by her Spouse the Spirit,
By lights on high and the sun’s changing face,
She made that field, for all who drew near it,
Even in thought, a great wellspring of grace.
Come, tortured hearts! fly in hope to your Mother,
Come, doubting souls, hail your most gracious Queen;
No foul grime-clouds can once hope to smother
The Heaven-star now at Fatima seen!
Once with the sun’s mighty flame she dried sweetly
Thousands who gathered in tempest and rain;
Now souls, with pain or crime sodden completely,
In her Son’s flaming love she warms again!
Through this past century, blackest and bleakest
Of any age that has known foolish man,
How many heard, when their spirits grew weakest,
Her gentle call, “Rise, come home–you still can!”
How many came to that high-favored field,
Seeking their share in the grace that she brought,
And found their mustard-seed faith, sown there, yield
Harvest of joy beyond all hope or thought!
Stars glistened in the darkness above the house. Konom stared up at their tiny lights, floating about the scarcely visible outlines of the high roof and the surrounding trees. For all these decades, this place—the weathered stone walls swathed in ivy, the cluttered kitchen, the quiet tower room, and oh, the East Wing—had been his home and his life. What was to happen now?
Abruptly he shook himself and strode back toward the front door. Having taken his time as usual, he had about made up his mind concerning the next order of business. He only had to go back and review the day’s records.
Once in the vestibule, he took the flickering lamp hanging just above him, as the house was mostly dark now. He turned left, as almost always. Right was the East Wing, and while he brought guests there every day, he hardly ever had occasion to go there himself. After all, his life was so simple . . . usually.
Konom made his way through the hall and across the kitchen, still lit and still strewn about with herbs, leaves, vegetables, grimy pots, and other things. Yes, it wanted tidying; he would see to that later. Coming to the stairs, he began ascending—carefully, as he grimly recalled the proofs in recent days that his body required more caution now. The winding stone steps spiraled upward for two flights. He paused at the top of the first flight, not because he meant to enter the library, but because he was tired—well, it had been a long day!—and in order to give an affectionate, half-sad glance at the intricately carved doors that guarded the books. Yes, it was a fine collection in there, as no one—or almost no one—knew better than he. He would ensure that they continued to be appreciated.
Breaking again out of reverie, he turned back to the stairs and climbed up to the top. Here was the tower room, not really mounted on much of a tower, but high enough to be fairly secluded. For Konom, it was a sort of study, containing a battered, stained desk, a few books for his own personal purposes, a pad of blank pages and some loose papers, some dried leaves of various kinds, and, of course, the Record Book. Were there any more of its kind left in this part of the world? Not likely. Standing upright against the back wall, a little taller than Konom himself, it collected within its fine brown-green leather covers all that transpired in the house each day.
With a short sigh, Konom set the lamp down on the desk and approached the book. Its back was facing toward him, of course, so that the most recent records would be on top; but the two covers were identical, both bearing the Chari-King’s seal and the house’s name, Domus Horoma. The House of Vision—a lonely but steady beacon, Konom thought, more needed than ever in this fogged world, when men had forgotten the higher powers and wonders of the world, once their source of guidance and security. Folk always needed guidance—they were foolish at the best of times—but now they really had grown blind, living in empty places inside their own minds, blind to a better existence that could be theirs. At least there were still places like this to which they could come.
Lifting the back cover, Konom briefly glanced across the nearest page, where the shimmering images, pale but quite lifelike, depicted all that had gone on that day. It had been a busy day, with several calls, but the important part had not come until the evening. Locating its beginning near the bottom of the page, without further ado, he stepped in.