Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Les Miserables

PBS is running a 25th anniversary special about the Broadway musical Les Miserables. As I watched it, I relived many memories that tugged at my heart. It made me feel once again. I felt for:

- poor Eponine who captures everyone's unrequited love heartache,
- the freshness of Marius and Cossette's love for each other and the new hope love brings the world,
- Fatine's desperate struggle to provide wholeheartedly for her daughter, Cossette, even giving up her own life.
- the repeated treacherous choices made by the Thenardiers,
- the inherent conflict Javert feels for wanting to make the world right again by adhering strictly to the law's judgments,
- the eternal hope brought about my peasants and schoolboys who strive for a world filled with justice and care for its neighbor,
- Valjean's noble quest to be a good man.

It is the classic tale of redemption by Victor Hugo that begins with one act of kindness and continues with the struggle to always make the loving and right choices. It is a story of the power of good to become victorious over the virulent forces of evil, even in the most miserable of conditions. It is a story of a wasted soul being bought for God, whose mercy transforms a broken man into a righteous one. Every person who has read the book or seen the musical comes away from the experience radically moved to reflect on the good that is possible with God's grace.

Here is a briefest of summaries for the beginning of the story:

In 1815 Napoleonic France, Jean Valjean is caught stealing a loaf of bread for his sister's starving children and is imprisoned for 19 years. He is stripped of all dignity, including his name, and given a number, 24601, instead. When released from prison, he is shunned by society and resorts to a life of crime because his heart is hardened. The mercy of a kindly bishop, Myriel, treats him with dignity and gives him back his life. Valjean, stupefied that the bishop sees good in him, promises to reform his life. The bishop sees a higher plan. He has bought Valjean's sould for God and now Valjean must choose. Will he stay on his path of darkness or become an honest man though the cards in the deck of life is stacked against him?

This is only the beginning of a long, noble story. The power within one act of kindness can fundamentally change a person's life forever. We can never know the effects of our mercy upon others. It is good for us to reflect upon the times in our life when we asked for forgiveness and it was granted to us. We might not remember our offenses, but we might have a memory of someone who released us from the sins we committed. The good we do is remembered more than any other of our activities.

Think for instance about our favorite high school teacher. We don't remember the subtrahends or dangling participles he or she taught us. We remember the kindness done for our benefit. Or take, for instance, the way your children or nieces and nephews respond to you when you give them a present. They simply want to be with you, and yet, they feel special when you do something nice for them - even if they don't deserve it. Who among us deserves the goodness we get from others? Who among us deserves the goodness we get from Christ? His work is to reconcile us, first of all, to ourselves, and then to others.

It is staggering to behold the glory worked through the life of Jean ValJean by God. A man, who thought he was wretched, was esteemed and beloved by the many. In the end, he comes to a point of recognition that he has loved well and can finally receive love. At the very end as he lay dying, his deceased friends, Fatine and Epopine return to him, declaring, "to love another person is to see the face of God." Christ is always with us, abiding by us, and wanting to be in a love relationship with us.