Arrival is a transformational film about a new way of thinking. Most viewers expecting “a smash in your face” alien movie with high-tech sci-fi special effects will miss the message. It’s not an action-packed movie to “shock & awe” the senses. Like a chess game, it’s a “thinkers” movie. Arrival is mostly thinking what the eyes see, ears hear, and what the heart struggles for meaning and enrichment. The journey to grasp the film’s message continues long after the credits roll and the theater’s lights restore present reality. Even with this non-spoiler insight, expect to walk out of the theater with perplexing questions and yearning for more understanding of the film’s nuances and allegories. Arrival is dominated by compassionate self-expression. Find me in that new place.
While this is my personal story, draw your own applications. Most of all, find a new place, where the heart beats stronger, vulnerable and brave. For many, the void within the human soul hungers for fulfillment. Wired for connection, belonging, and purpose, we perpetually search for ways to bridge that precipitous crevasse. Drugs, alcohol, sex, food, money, gambling, and power are the usual suspects, leading to pseudo-satisfaction and an eventual rock-bottom pit, eluding solace, peace, and authentic joy. As a by-product of these misadventures, the journey often cultivates shame instead. Shame is the intrinsic feeling that we are flawed, inadequate, and simply not good enough. I’ve been there.
When I was a 26 year old college graduate, strong, handsome, and ready to take on the world, it never occurred to me that it could all change in a second. It did on April 16, 1976. The truck driver didn’t see me enter the intersection on my Honda 250 motorcycle. It wasn’t my fault, but it didn’t matter. The collision resulted in a collapsed right lung, broken ribs and clavicle, and right arm brachial plexus avulsion (paralysis). With the severe body impact, death, quadriplegia, brain trauma, or facial deformity could have been the outcomes. Instead, God moved me through with a slightly altered earth suit. Arrival to a new place.
My college major in health, physical education, and recreation prepared me to switch gears and move forward. It started with my design of an innovative hemi-sling, which positions my right arm in a Napoleonic-like posture. After a short rehabilitation, and a subsequent job in social work community service, the YMCA offered a promising management career position. The job offer for a Physical Director included the requirement of a Red Cross advanced life-saving certificate. Prior to college, I had that certificate to land a lifeguard job at a country club. I knew what was expected to pass the course. But, I hadn’t swam a stroke since the motorcycle injury. Undaunted, I signed-up for the course. After all, I had already demonstrated the adaptability required to be successful in other athletic venues. With my right arm secured in a custom athletic sling, I was playing competitive tennis, running, and cycling. Swimming? “I got this”.
However, on the first day of group class instruction in the pool, doubt started to creep into my mind, followed by a rush of shame. Can I do this? What will everyone think about how I look? Am I good enough?
Let’s be blunt about the countenance of shame. Shame is the toxicity that takes the psyche hostage, dismantling with reckless abandon. What’s most alarming, shame is simply thoughts that linger in the consciousness, weighting like a heavy fog. It stifles and numbs the human spirit. Fortunately, compassion is the way to heal most painful shaming experiences. Compassion is the antidote to shame.
Compassion is derived from two Latin words, com and pati, which together mean “to suffer with”. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
When the Red Cross instructor shouted to the 20+ participants, “swim a few laps to warm-up”, I instinctively pushed off the side of the pool and swam with all the self-compassion and courage I could muster. In that surreal moment, I remember thinking loudly in my animated consciousness, “this feels weird”. But, without hesitation, I launched into an abbreviated freestyle, kicking powerfully and pulling the water back with my arm. In a moment of profound belief and clarity of purpose, I saw myself preforming the stroke with ease and grace. Compassion vaporized fear and shame, restoring confidence and courage. Arrival to a new place.
Throughout the remaining weeks of instruction, I continued to adapt as necessary to master the lifesaving skill sets. However, for the last competency, imagine jumping in the pool to rescue a man thrashing around in a panic, mimicking a drowning swimmer. This was the practical final to earn my Red Cross lifesaving certificate. With adrenalin rushing throughout my body, I grasped that man across his chest with speed and force to cause complete submission, expediting my successful rescue to the side of the pool. Conquering adversity never felt so sweet!
Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th United States President is renowned for the “Citizenship in a Republic” speech, which includes a compassionate philosophy about how to approach life’s tough challenges.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”.
A conqueror’s identity boldly walks in the light of their faith, clearly seen. Shame is thwarted when exposed by the warrior’s shield and sword of compassion. Even in my personal suffering, I’ve discovered that reaching out to comfort others has a therapeutic healing. An authentic practice of compassion for self and others cultivates a kind, charitable, and amazing grace. Arrival to a new place.