When I was training as a screenwriter the teacher said something that stayed with me. He said, “Your character must grow from his wound.”
In other words, it is that hole in our heart, that gnawing pain, that dark shadow in our lives that must become our growth point.
For one person it may be a physical disability, for another a broken marriage or a broken heart. For another it may be disappointment in love, a failed career, an early widowhood or a terrible disease.
It is how we respond to the wound that will prove us.
The greatest stories are the ones in which the hero faces the wound, goes into the dark and doesn’t just overcome by going around it or avoiding it, but by going through it.
It is so in the lives of the great heroes, the great saints, all great human beings.
And yet what so many of us do is invest huge amounts of energy, activity, discussion and sometimes money trying to avoid the wound. The last thing we want to do is to to the soul doctor Jesus.
We run away into the vanity of success, the escape into sexual pleasure, the escape into drugs, medication or drink. We run away. We are all fugitives. Worst of all we run away into false religion–but that is the topic for another post….
Some time ago I wrote an article for the Imaginative Conservative that explains how the English actor Alec Guinness grew from his wound and made good out of his illegitimate beginnings
In Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing the illegitimate Don John plots to spoil the happiness and prosperity of all. His skullduggery springs from the brooding dark moods, resentment, and bitterness at his bastard status. From time immemorial illegitimacy was understood as a dark stain, breeding a bitter character and a doomed fate—as if the character carries a curse.
There is no need to propose a supernatural aspect to such a curse. Too often the struggles that accompany illegitimacy of poverty, a broken home, an absent father, and an insecure childhood result in the very bitterness, resentment, and inability to succeed that perpetuate the idea of a bastard being cursed. All the more encouraging then, when a boy from a broken and dysfunctional home rises above it and goes on to succeed. When he not only achieves fame and fortune, but also becomes a truly gentle and wise person the victory over fate is complete.
Guiness did not mind telling people that he was illegitimate. His mother was a flighty and insecure young woman named Agnes Cuff. His birth certificate does not carry a last name. Instead “Alec Guinness” is listed as his two forenames. His mother later married a violent, shell-shocked veteran who would terrify the sensitive child. Guinness was sent to boarding school in Bexhill on Sea and then Eastbourne, and he once met an “uncle”—a banker named Andrew Geddes who he guessed paid his school tuition and who Guinness assumed was his father.
The story of Alec Guiness’ illegitimacy, his quiet life and conversion to the Catholic faith is very moving. You can read the whole article here.
Although he was unenthusiastic about his own part as the desert father Obi Wan Kenobi, his mentoring Luke Skywalker to “grow from the wound” of his own search for the Father defines the mystery in a way nobody would have thought of–in a blockbuster classic movie, and I’ve always reckoned that this more than all the light sabers and rocket ships was the true genius of Star Wars and the secret of its success.
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