I'm sitting here on a beautiful Sunday morning thinking about war and violence. Goes well with the oatmeal. Actually, I saw the movie "The Hurt Locker" last night and it took a good night's sleep to come down from the adrenaline rush.
As a movie, it's quite a creation -- a hellaciously intense and harrowing immersion into the war in Iraq, punctuated with moments of levity and pure heartbreak. But as you've probably figured out by now, I'm not here for a movie review.
The movie focuses on three men who comprise a bomb defusion squad in Baghdad. After the group's lead bomb expert is killed when an IED he is trying to disarm is detonated, into the void steps Staff Sgt. William James.
In military terms, and Busting Loose terms, James knows his unique mission and purpose. He is here to defuse bombs. We find out after one particularly nerve-wracking sequence that he has, in fact, defused 873 bombs during his time in Iraq.
There is not a lot of psychological exploration about why someone would find enjoyment in such an obviously dangerous job. The filmmaker portrays him as sort of a maverick, a "wild man" as one superior puts it, who loves the thrill. In fact, he is so absorbed he puts his fellow soldiers, like Sgt. J.T. Sanborne, at risk along with himself, a point that Sanborne makes with a quick punch to James' face.
But "The Hurt Locker" is not about a devil-may-care macho soldier. Been there, blown that one up. There is no doubt James accepts the fact that a single mistake is fatal. He chooses to embrace that, not avoid it, to ride the edge. And as Roger Ebert noted, "(1) bombs need to be defused; (2) nobody does it better than James; (3) he knows exactly how good he is, and (4) when he’s at work, an intensity of focus and exhilaration consumes him, and he’s in that heedless zone when an artist loses track of self and time."
In Busting Loose terms, that last part sounds a lot like joy. Go figure.
Still, it's a movie and would anyone of us ever really choose that vocation? Which brings me to my point. The movie brought me back to one of the delicious paradoxes that Robert touches on, about each of us living in our own holograms, yet seemingly interacting with others in their holograms.
Without going into an explanation of that conundrum, because I have none, it becomes more obvious to me every day that we can never fully understand why someone else in our hologram does whatever they are going to do. There are lots of things "we" wouldn't do, but others choose to do.
It doesn't take a character as off-the-wall as James to understand that point. We come across it every day. Why did my husband leave me? Why does my teenager behave this way? Why is my boss such an a-hole? At some point, after we've wrung the drama out of the situation and done the process, we can only suspend judgment, derive our lessons from it and realize as my friend Jane like to say, "all paths are sacred."
Jane knows. She has had a life that should be made into a book or movie some day. But it was her experience with her middle daughter that brought the point home to her. Her daughter had what most of us would call a tough time as a teenager. She was raped. By age 14, she was living on the street, drug and alcohol-addicted. She became a single mother at age 17.
Jane simply had to let go after it became apparent no amount of mothering, intervention, scolding or attention was going to derail her daughter from her path. Jane said she accepted the reality that her daughter might die at a young age.
I'm happy to say that in this "movie," Jane's daughter emerged from this phase of her journey. She's earned a college degree, teaches middle school, raises her two children with a partner, and has been sober for 19 months.
At the end of "The Hurt Locker," Sanborne finally accepts James for who he is. James ends his deployment, goes home to his wife and baby and does his best to be a good father and husband. But the lure of his mission and purpose is too much. He returns to Iraq for another tour of defusing bombs. He is at peace.
We can't judge Sgt. William James and we can't judge Jane's daughter. We can only marvel at the amazing stories they created, the unique missions and purposes they were on. And love them.