20 July 2015

Joy and Sadness, Pixar and Tolkien

Earlier today I shared Chris Hazell's review of Pixar's Inside Out in which he reflected on God's gift of sadness.

A few moments ago I saw this quote from J.R.R. Tolkien on Twitter:
The quote seemed familiar to me, but I could not quite place it; at the very least, I knew it certainly sounded like Tolkien.

After inquiring, I learned it is not a direct quote, but a conflation of a few lines from The Return of the King. After Pippin pledges his fealty to Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, the hobbit and Gandalf reflected on Pippin's action and on what might yet come:
'Are you angry with me, Gandalf?' [Pippin] said, as their guide went out and closed the door. 'I did the best I could.'

'You did indeed!' said Gandalf, laughing suddenly; and he came and stood beside Pippin, putting his arm about the hobbit's shoulders, and gazing out of the window. Pippin glanced in some wonder at the face now close beside his own, for the sound of that laugh had been gay and merry. Yet in the wizard's face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.
We might say that Gandalf's joy was something like a volcano, just waiting to erupt. With how many of us is this the case?

Something similar might be said of every melancholic person. Externally, what is seen is sadness, or at least the impression of sadness, but as Inside Out shows us, this is no bad thing. Hazell puts it this way:
The film masterfully explores the danger of avoiding sadness and exhausting joy, a theme we can see in our culture without much eye straining—an inordinate drive to secure emotional happiness at all costs, avoiding, ignoring, or destroying all obstacles that could hinder it. Yet, as we witness in the film, there is a necessary “growing up” that reveals not only the benefit of sadness, but also the inescapable need for it to allow a deeper sense of richness in our lives and, paradoxically, a more lasting joy.
Far too many people today are - it might be said - obsessed with the outward appearance of joy, but interiorly they are bereft of joy; we have become, as a society, so uncomfortable with sadness, a necessary and life-giving emotion, that we would rather fake being happy than acknowledge we are sad. We refuse to be led by sadness to a joy beyond imagining.

As one simple example of this, the most common thing I hear from parishioners is this: "You need to smile more," or some variation of it. These are the ones so concerned with exterior joy that they do no see what Pippin saw under Gandalf's care and sorrow. I do not have a natural smile on my face and if I were to walk around smiling it would not be a sincere smile.

This, however, does not mean that I do not know joy. It means, rather, that my joy is, like Gandalf's, hidden within sorrow and those who know how to look will see it; these are the ones who say to me, "You have a beautiful smile." I've always taken this to mean that my smile is sincere; sincere smiles are always beautiful.

I do not think my joy can set a kingdom laughing, but it can certainly set a room laughing, but only after people let sadness lead them to the joy waiting to burst forth.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff, agree absolutely. I also felt that it was very profound what Tolkien said there in 'Return of the King' and deeply significant to our "real" life....