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On Life, Love, Forgiveness, and Bees

There is something magical about movies set in the 1950s and 1960s in the South. It's the juxtaposition of the racial hatred with the beauty and family of life. The big houses with wrap-around porches. The outdoor life and indoor life so completely intertwined, something awfully foreign to us Canadians. Summers with lemonade, bare feet, fishing, and pick up trucks. Life is slow; slow enough to watch birds and play with insects and marvel in creation and just laugh.

And then there are the clothes: the beautiful dresses with the form-fitting tops and the full skirts, so flattering and feminine, and I do so wish they'd come back in style.

And yet there's the ugliness, too. And most movies of those days have to do with overcoming the family ugliness, the secrets, and the hatred, with love; usually the love of someone outside your family.

Last night my girls and I watched The Secret Life of Bees, but you get the same feeling from other movies set in the same time period. The south in the days of the civil rights act provides a lens to view real human emotion that is perhaps easier to understand because things are so--if you'll pardon the pun--black and white. You know the script. You know where the evil lies. And so it doesn't take so long to figure it out and you can get on with the deeper things in the movie.

And yet I don't think it's that the problems were worse then. I think it's that they were more visible then. Human beings are the same, and we battle the same problems. I think it all boils down to this: when people allow themselves to hate other people for no reason (racism), it poisons their souls and it poisons their families. Their relationships that don't even have anything to do with racism are also hurt.

That's why so many themes from literature and movies of the day had to do with domestic violence, and affairs, and family secrets. No one was being open and honest and loving within the family because there was such a dark part of their souls that hated others. And it poisoned everything.

In The Secret Life of Bees, Lily is now 14, living with her abusive father. She has only vague memories of her mother, whom she accidentally killed when she was 4. Her mother was trying to escape her father, and grabbed a gun when her father became violent. But the gun fell, and 4-year-old Lily, trying to give it back to her mother, inadvertently sets it off.

The rest of the movie is all about Lily trying to find forgiveness and love, but most of all trying to figure out who she is. No one is an angel in the movie, except perhaps for May, but I won't tell her story. It's a beautiful one, but if I write it it will seem silly. You really need to watch.

Lily's mother wasn't an angel. She was an abused woman who made very poor choices, and Lily is still trying to come to terms with those, even at the end of the movie. Though she finds a peace, we know it isn't complete. But it is enough for her to embrace life again.

Lily's father certainly isn't an angel, but in the end we develop a bit of sympathy for him, too, for he has lost someone he loved, and we can see that growing up in the culture he did he had no way of adequately dealing with it.

But through the love of a family of black sisters, who each have their idiosyncracies, Lily finds peace.

I enjoyed the movie, and I spent much of it on the verge of tears, because when things are so close to real life, it's hard not cry, even in the happy scenes. It was like that with this movie. And perhaps because it was so real, I didn't just want to watch it; I wanted to touch it, to go back in time and space and make things right.

And yet it is not that we, fifty years in the future, have it all figured out so much more. There is still violence, and hatred, and ignorance, and fear. It may take a different face, but it is still there, and it is often children who bear the brunt of the mistakes that parents make when they are so overcome with these black things that they fail to do the right things.

Lily suffered because her father was angry and her mother was depressed. Neither parent started out that way; but they allowed life and the culture to squeeze out too much of the good that God put in them, and they were carried down a river of bad decisions and they couldn't seem to pull themselves to shore. I think we all have felt that at some point--we have felt ourselves so depressed we can't get out of bed, or so angry we don't know how we can face someone, or so grieved we can't face life.

The answer that the trio of black women found in the movie unfortunately wasn't a good one. It's a long story, but they end up "worshipping" a statue of a black Mary. There's nothing wrong with picturing Mary as black, of course, but to assume that our peace or strength comes from Mary is unbiblical. Our peace and strength come from God, and yet God was barely mentioned, though they referred to Mary as Jesus' mother. I was sorry about that, and should you choose to watch the movie with kids, I would explain this to them as the movie progresses. (You should also not watch with kids under 11 or 12, just because there is a lot of violence, though most is off screen).

Nevertheless, even though their peace is rather heretical, there is an interesting dichotomy set up in the movie. All the beauty--the music, the colours, the natural wonders, the joy--is in those who have made peace with the world. Whether it's the bright pink house or the blue taffetta dress or the bright green diary, they're in stark contrast with the monochrome that characterized Lily's earlier life. When you allow yourself to be consumed with a dark or evil culture, it is hard to see the beauty, and thus hard to participate in creating it.

All of us have pasts that we need to come to terms with. Some are more difficult than others, but we must all find God to help us find peace, lest we get carried down that river, too, and slip further into despair or anger. Yet it is not only that we need forgiveness that we need God; it is also that we need to watch that we do not become so consumed with our culture that we miss true beauty.

Our culture may not have the overt racial hatred that this one did, but we do have such ugliness. We have ugliness in the way we treat sex. We have ugliness in how crass the language is. We have ugliness in the lack of respect people have for themselves and others. We have ugliness in the way that we reject love and commitment and responsibility and instead promote selfishness and a "do what makes me feel good" attitude. And the more we allow ourselves to be swept away by this, the more we will create dysfunction in our own hearts, and in our families, and end up hurting those closest to us.

That's what I'm thinking as I'm writing this tonight, after watching that movie. There is a life of great beauty out there, and we won't see it if we let ourselves be swept away by our culture. So don't. Hang on to the beauty that God has given us. Look for it. Revel in it. Love it. Appreciate it. Others may not see the beauty the way you do, but that is their problem, not yours. I want to live in a more beautiful world, and that will only come when more of us climb out of this river that is rushing us away.

And so I look forward to this summer: of living indoors and out; of a few brief months of bare feet and butterflies and lemonade and camping. And most of all, I want this summer to be a summer of love for my kids, and my husband, and my friends, and my God. Because that's what true beauty is.


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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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