Les Misérables. The miserable ones. A musical based on the novel by Victor Hugo.
You know the story, right? It opens with Jean Valjean being released from prison after having served 19 years. Unjustly so.
Bitter he has become. Can you blame him?
And with this bitterness, if he had gone down a path of being a thief forever, bitter forever, and even perhaps to do harm unto others out of uncontrollable anger and mental instability, would we blame him? After having endured an unfair 19 years behind bars?
Even if we couldn't bring ourselves to exonerate him, we'd at least understand him.
But early on, as we think he'll go down that path of destruction, he meets a Bishop who gives him food, refuge, and a warm bed.
And even with this generosity, Jean Valjean's state of being causes him to become a thief in the night, stealing the Bishop's silver. The authorities catch him and bring him back to the Bishop. And the rest we predict will go predictably, with the Bishop pressing charges and Valjean returning to prison and bitterness reining over these lives forever.
But the Bishop.
The Bishop becomes the game-changer.
To Jean Valjean who is before him with the authorities who are accusing him of having stolen the silver, the Bishop could decide to press charges, and to send him away. But instead, he says this in front of the authorities, to Valjean about the silver candlesticks that Jean Valjean didn't take:
But my friend, you left so early. Surely something slipped your mind. You forgot I gave these also, would you leave the best behind?
That line is the line that brings me to my knees every time. It's the Bishop's courage and generosity and Jean Valjean's ability to receive that generosity that a new story begins.
I just saw Les Misérables tonight with the family. I'm so completely drained. I've adored this story for years and I'm so happy that we have this new exquisite production to enjoy ... and to introduce the story to a whole new generation of people.
To me, the most significant thing about life that this story tells is that no matter how sorrowful a tragedy is, life goes on. Sometimes, you think that when there is such pain in a person's life, that the universe should pause for a little bit ... so that we can all catch our breaths. So that we can mourn. So that we can cry. So that we can grieve.
Right? Shouldn't life pause when life hurts so much?
But that's the thing about life. It never pauses. It just goes on. Relentlessly so. It doesn't stop. The sun does come out tomorrow ... not in the "bet your bottom dollar" sort of way, but in the "at the end of the day you're another day older" sort of way.
So maybe what we need to do with this life that never pauses is to do something so that it continues in a good way. In ways where in the face of hurt, we become generous and brave game-changers so new and better stories can become born out of bad ones. Maybe we can do this through love. And maybe when we do this, it's true about the final and most significant line in the story, which is that:
"To love another person is to see the face of God."
Merry Christmas to all the game-changers past, present, and future.