The best stories are the ones that encourage exploration.
Dr. Scary* was the best lecturer in the physics department at my alma mater. Not the best teacher; students were rumored to leave his office in tears. Not the best writer of grad school recommendation letters; he might have at least formatted his passive aggression. But his lectures were astounding.
*All names from my personal history have been changed.
Whether the topic was the basics or quantum mechanics, Dr. Scary never simply slapped the equation up on the chalkboard and told us to memorize it. Instead, he always started with the story.
Like a Classic Campbellian, he established the Normal World: the physics known before the equation was created. Then came the Call to Action, where the known physics fell apart, the clear void in our Normal World of human understanding. We follow our Hero, the intrepid physicist or grad student, as they pieced together the answer bit by bit, until at last, the new equation was revealed: a Boon of white chalk painted against the blackboard. Dr. Scary turned equations into a living tale, and as a result, I learned more from his classes than from any other professor in the department.
Unfortunately, Dr. Scary has well-earned his pseudonym. His intimidating nature and occasional snide remark towards and about us, his pupils, coupled with those rumors of tear-inducing office hours, prevented many a student from properly exploring the stories he wove. I personally never felt comfortable reaching out to him for help or further explanation of the concepts, and I barely scraped by his classes with a passing grade.
Therefore, how grateful I am that another great lecturer of my life is far more welcoming of questions. In fact, I believe that Jesus chose to teach in stories – the famed parables – because they would require exploration on the part of the listener. He never made a habit of offering explanations up front, but never did he turn away a single question. Even those who asked in bad faith were rewarded with an answer for exploring.
Parables were made for exploration, for seeking out various interpretations of the central truth, based on where the listener placed themselves in the story. Were they the robbed man? The Pharisee or the Sadducee? Perhaps the titular Good Samaritan himself?
Because they were made for such a purpose, parables are stories that endure. They evolve as we grow, both as a society – today this parable might better be called “The Good Immigrant,” or “The Good Trans Man” – and as individuals. I don’t think it takes much to make a story a parable, simply the relevance to one person’s life and the willingness to partner with Jesus to make sense of it all. As such, modern parables are created every day, from drabbles of fanfic to blockbuster movies.
When I first started this close read of “Twin Suns,” I didn’t realize I was about to discover a parable that would change my life.
~~AN APT METAPHOR TO KEEP IN MIND~~ I caught a football wrong, and it broke my finger. Thinking it sprained, I iced it to numb the pain and kept going. By the time I realized it was broken, it had healed wrong. Fortunately: The only lasting side effect is an oddly lumped, but perfectly functional, index finger. Unfortunately: Not all side-effects are so trivial. Sometimes the bone needs to be re-broken before it can properly heal.
A PAIR OF PARABLES
The Shackled Heart
“My heart is a shack,” the woman says, by way of an apology as she opens up the door to let him in. As with each visit before, Jesus gives a smile as if it’s a masterpiece of a mansion. “But come, sit down,” she says. “I’ll put the coffee on.”
It’s a long corridor for her little shack of a heart, before they reach the chairs the woman has set next to the pot. Too long, in her opinion, providing too much opportunity for him to observe the unseemly seam on her corridor wall. And, as with each visit before, he does just that. Giving a gentle tap against the uneven, unpainted plaster that stretches from the ceiling to the floor.
“Yup. Been meaning to get to that.” She moves ahead down the corridor. “Gotta get some paint to polish it up.” She moves the conversation ahead to coffee, the seam already forgotten. She is allowed a few cracks here and there. Her heart is a shack, after all.
A Close Read of Star Wars Rebels: “Twin Suns” – Part 11 – The Lesson Animation Taught Me
“So, you like the goody-two-shoes, whereas I like characters with a little more depth.”
It wasn’t said as dismissively as it reads on paper, but nevertheless: them’s fightin’ words, and I confess they may have been a sticking point for me. My respect for Obi-Wan Kenobi as a character had been present since his snark had been tempered by polite steadiness in Attack of the Clones, and he was certainly my favorite in Revenge of the Sith, but this was the first time I ever felt defensive of him.
A college hallmate and I had been discussing the merits of Anakin versus Obi-Wan as heroic characters in the Star Wars Prequels, and even if I didn’t have a strong opinion back then, I was firmly in Camp Obi-Wan. I’ve always preferred the kinder heroes. Marvel’s Steve Rogers and Tony Stark had also been involved in this conversation, myself firmly on Team Cap. DC’s Superman was only out-matched in my love by an equally warm soul in J’onn J’onzz. My favorite of Star Trek, Leonard “Bones” McCoy, was a cantankerous piece of work wholly driven by compassion. Optimus Prime was the reason I ever gave the Transformers franchise a second look. And Jake Lloyd will always be my favorite Anakin.
So suddenly, in this polite discussion between two college students, I had skin in the game regarding interpretations of Obi-Wan Kenobi. It wasn’t just about one character; it was about a set of characters who held importance to me personally. Caught off-guard as I was, I don’t recall how I replied – probably something tantamount to “nuh-uh” – but clearly, the claim stuck with me.
I turned it over multiple times in my head over the years, as I saw many characters that matched these traits come and go, each one unfailingly labeled as “boring” or “underdeveloped.” It’s true that they didn’t react to situations or change through the years in the same way as Anakin Skywalker or Tony Stark, so how could one possibly describe the dynamism and depth of the unyielding?
Finally, an answer stuck with me: appropriately enough, the word “steadfast.”
It’s not that characters like Obi-Wan are untouchable or infallible, but rather that, through it all, they remain steadfast in their faiths, in their beliefs, in their kindness. They doubt, they hurt, they fail, they mess up, but at the end of the day, they climb back to their feet, plant themselves on moral ground, and stand.
In this, the woman is proud of her heart.
It takes a beating. Sometimes accidentally, leaving her gritting teeth to push through the pain. Sometimes deliberately, leaving her grasping for reasons never proffered. Either way, the woman can feel the seam swell, ripple, and crack further into the corridor.
Yet through it all, through every new path to spider-web out from the seam, her heart is steadfast in compassion.
Not perfect – it is a shack, after all – but steadfast. The woman is always finding odd corners to clean. Always trying to make it a welcoming place for whoever needs a good heart to listen.
Well, maybe not good. Still a shack, of course. There’s room for no one but her to live here. Not even enough for family.
But compassion keeps her door open and the coffee on.
And she is proud of that.
Obi-Wan has the richest rogues gallery out of any Star Wars hero. Even if they cross blades – sometimes quite literally – with other heroes, there always seems to be a particular investment in his downfall. Cad Bane, Grievous, Asajj Ventress, Count Dooku, and Darth Vader, they all bring an extra, personal touch when it comes to dealing with Obi-Wan Kenobi. And yet none of them have challenged his central quality of “steadfast” as deliberately as Darth Maul. The other rogues sought to kill Obi-Wan; Maul wanted to break him. As a result, some of the best Obi-Wan episodes in The Clone Wars are those with Maul, as we see how close to the line Obi-Wan is pushed, where he chooses to plant his feet and withstand the storm.
It was for these reasons that I was elated at Obi-Wan’s impending return in Star Wars Rebels. Maul had already made his debut on the show, and Lucasfilm was promising me a thrilling, final encounter between these bitter foes.
~~TWITTER CHALLENGE:~~ ~~“DESCRIBE THE PLOT OF YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE IN LIMERICK FORM”~~ Lured from home by wicked mystery, A boy witnessed a soft tragedy. Free of the darksider, The boy returned wiser, Thanks to the old men and the Dune Sea. Now that my contribution is done, “This was no movie!” surely said someone. Yes, cheated I did, But heaven forbid, I pass up a poem ‘bout “Twin Suns.”
The episode “Twin Suns” lived up to every level of expectation I had, as I saw Obi-Wan plant his feet once more against the raging storm and stand. Then, as Maul fell at those same steadfast feet, my expectations were shattered.
I never anticipated this.
A collision of the kindest and the cruelest that Star Wars had to offer. It left me grasping at something inexplicable. All I knew was that Obi-Wan cradling Maul in his arms was tapping on a place I’d long since iced over in my heart. An old sprain, perhaps.
The seam has existed in her heart for as long as she can remember. She recoils from calling it a companion, but it has been a constant. She is older now than when it used to gape wide and ravening. Beyond the splintering edges, she would catch glimpses of grotesque, abandoned wastes, haunted by twin shadows and a yearning that threatened to consume her heart whole.
Nowadays, the plaster is layered on thick. A laughable defense, perhaps. Indeed, small cracks even find their ways into her hard work, insatiable whispers riding on escaping drafts of air, rain like tears seeping through to soak her corridor wall.
Nevertheless, a laughable defense is better than no defense at all.
At the very least, the plaster keeps her heart from shattering.
“Villains are always cooler!”
So said a boy in one of our neighborhood bouts of make-believe. I never really tracked that logic. To be sure, I enjoy them, especially when they’re as well-developed as Maul, but they’re never going to make it into my list of favorites. That list is reserved for the steadfast goody-two-shoes, those in whom I can see myself, or at least who I aspire to be. Therefore, the fact that I was now fascinated with Maul, one of the cruelest villains Star Wars has ever gifted to the world, was of slight… how you say? …concern.
Clearly there was research to be done.
When her heart chooses kindness, it can hardly be called a choice. When she watches someone thrown to the ground before her very eyes, when she sees their humanity torn away, what other choice is there?
The woman’s heart may be a shack, but she can make room. She will make room.
She sets to work to prepare for her new guests. Old dust is kicked away, and whatever noise the seam might make is muffled by its plaster and her busy hands. Generosity finds room, boldness finds its voice, and she finally discovers the ground on which she shall plant her feet and stand.
She has no plan for what a small woman like her will do against such reckless hate, but surely, she is not alone.
For a moment, she pauses in the center of her shack. To her delight, she sees a glimpse of what Jesus might see. It is the closest her heart has ever felt to deserving that smile of his. No masterpiece perhaps, but at last she feels… enough. She feels as if this is a heart Jesus could call home.
Barely has she opened her heart to share it and the world seizes her at the throat to throttle her back into silence. She is gasping at the doorstep, on her knees. A conversation continues above her. In casual dismissals of the suffering she sees with her own eyes, of her guests whom she has worked so hard to love, they even invoke Jesus as the heart of their callousness.
At first, she is shaken.
Rage is quick to overtake.
“Twin Suns” instantly became my favorite piece of audiovisual storytelling, and nothing but my best would do for the close read. Books and tutorials on literary and film critique, catching up on classics like Kurosawa (because Dave Filoni mentioned Seven Samurai in an interview) or Moby-Dick (to explore quintessential tales of revenge). And of course, there was Star Wars to consider, canon and Legends alike.
I started with Kenobi by John Jackson Miler, a novel which remains one of the most finely-crafted pieces of science fiction literature. This was the sort of story I was used to loving, a conflation of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Clark Kent. A celebration of goodness and resilience against the harshest of circumstances. My immediate follow-up in Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schreiber was a different beast altogether.
Relentless in gore and mayhem, it was as perfect an encapsulation of Maul’s villainy as Kenobi was of Obi-Wan’s heroism. Not forthcoming in many clues as to how Maul had embedded himself in my affection, but it still managed to give a tap or two onto my old sprain.
Other Maul-centric novels, comics, and episodes joined in. Canon or not, I experienced them as a singular story, and the tapping became as familiar as certain beats in Maul’s life.
~~A PAIR OF MOMENTS A TOUCH TOO LITERAL FOR COMFORT~~ 1. Fleeing offered comfort, howling our way down a tunnel (I did not have the added benefit of being a giant spider). 2. Knees hitting sand in the middle of a faith-based crisis, screaming for the object of said crisis to show themselves.
One thread of his story hooked my attention sharply, and I could not shake it: isolation.
Sidious tore away every friendship Maul ever tried to make. Then, when Maul had emotionally latched solely and wholly onto him, Sidious kept dangling the threat of abandonment as a means of control. This damaged Maul’s ability to connect with others, as the only relationship he could conceive of was that of a Sith Master-Apprentice dynamic.
He forced his brother into the role of the Apprentice, he submitted to his mother as his next Master, and he attempted the same isolation tactics on Ezra. In Maul’s experiences, relationships only ever worked one way. Despite his desperation for connections, Maul was hamstrung by his own tunnel vision, trapped in his own corridor, if you will.
The seam buckles under the rage that she howls into her heart. Plaster shatters, and the cracks race in a new spread down the corridor. How dare they. She slams both her hands against her door, throwing it shut behind them with a force that leaves splinters in her palms. How dare they.
She is had by the throat again, this time by something inside, something feral.
When she finally comes to, she is sitting in her shack. A grotesque, abandoned waste surrounds her, remnants of her heart work, all torn down by her same, bleeding hands. It’s a slow realization, but a shameful one: Her rage had not been for her guests. Her rage had been for herself.
It takes a lot for her to want to share her shack of a heart; sometimes she feels as if there’s not even room for her. And the moment she thought she became something worthwhile, she was told she was all for nothing.
Now her heart settles in its tatters. Certainly not fit for her guests, as she had cast them out in her fury. Not even fit for those who throttled her love.
In this self-reflection, the seam gapes at her by way of mockery. Her heart now matches its haunting shadows, like a long-forgotten past reborn.
“It’s just a guy fishing! He doesn’t even get the fish!”
That was one of two comments I remember receiving when I told my family I read The Old Man and the Sea for the sake of Star Wars. I had scribbled down a pun in my notebook of the close read: “The Old Men and the Dune Sea,” and unshakeable curiosity set in. Was there a connection to be found here? What resulted was a fascinating comparison; Maul and Obi-Wan representing two different interpretations of Hemmingway’s work.
Maul is the classic interpretation of The Old Man and the Sea, that a man’s purpose is forever in the striving, in the external performance, and unto that is his worth tied. But as both Maul and the old man see, that purpose leads to nothing, only emptiness.
Obi-Wan, however, demonstrates a more hopeful take on the tale.
It doesn’t matter whether or not the fish was caught, what mattered was the relationship between the old man and his pupil. That was what gave Obi-Wan purpose; his connection with the Force and others, such as Luke Skywalker. That is what could give the old man purpose, if he only allowed himself vulnerability, if he only allowed in those who loved him.
The second comment I remember was more of a question:
“…You are seeing yourself in this whole analysis you’re doing, right?”
“My heart is a mess,” she says by way of misery, opening the door at his gentle knock. It’s a day she’d rather not have Jesus visit, but she nevertheless goes to put the coffee on.
She notices he’s meandering behind in the corridor. As with each visit, he pauses at the seam. Taps a gentle finger against it. Remnants of plaster shudder into dust.
“Yes, I know it’s ugly. Been meaning to paint it.”
As with each visit, he smiles. A touch of mischief finds its way in. He settles down onto the floorboards, and paints.
Not on the seam, but a shoulder-width and half again to its side. Right at the height a child would make play with crayons and markers. Blues and reds, oranges and yellows, colors of gray and witwer, stanton and filoni, melching, gilroy, and more, so many more. A thousand colors each as unique as their names. A whole desert scene with painted faces spills out onto her wall, down onto the trim just before the floor.
It is the most beautiful thing the woman has ever seen.
Advent 2017 wasn’t the worst crisis of faith I’d had, and it was not going to be my last. Rather, it was simply a period in my long disillusionment that was not helped by the fact that it was Christmas.
I never really understood the Nativity. I believe it, certainly. I could theologically espouse the meanings of various elements. I could intellectually explain the significance of how this divine event would change the course of the world. But I could not emotionally connect to what ought to be the greatest celebration in my faith.
For years, even in the height of my passion for God, I found the birth of Jesus dull. Rote. Lifeless. And through the two-plus decades I’d sat through the same copy-paste message and the incessant carols on the Christian radio stations, the Nativity itself felt increasingly commercialized, insincere, similar to what my view of the American church had become.
Most years, I would cheerily bear my emotional disconnect, but Advent 2017 magnified my Grinchittude. Disillusionment is a difficult thing to reconcile. For the past year, my feet had been seeking purchase on faith grounds that rapidly seemed built more on political convenience than the true nature of the gospel. Voices of leaders and friends rang harshly discordant with the commands God had given to uplift the oppressed.
Summer 2018: my disillusionment would spark into fury over the callous responses to family separations at the border. In a few short months, I would feel the greatest disconnect to the church that I’ve yet to experience. It would be a rage that would have me storming out of a sermon and breathing damnation against those who shared worship with me.
But I hadn’t gotten there yet. It was still Advent 2017, and I was still researching for the “Twin Suns” close read, working my way through the quintessential tales of revenge. Moby-Dick was already down the hatch, and it was time to crack open Ben-Hur.
The opening chapters were ridiculously ripe for comparison, as three men converged on a desert camp in search of the answer to visions and prophecies of an Anointed One. The men seek hope, freedom, and redemption. Perhaps it is a stretch to include Ezra and especially Maul in the archetypical trio of the Three Wise Men, but that didn’t matter.
All that mattered was that I finally understood the Nativity.
In the same way that Ezra’s journey in “Twin Suns” gives us the emotional context for Obi-Wan and Maul’s history, all three of them gave me the emotional context for Advent that I’d missed for so long. I didn’t just know the significance of Jesus’ birth; I felt it.
Through Obi-Wan, I felt the longing of the faithful, those who remained steadfast in the seeming absence of God under an oppressive regime.
Through Ezra, I felt the fire of the searching, that which would drive three men to cross deserts and defy kings for the sake of hope.
Through Maul, I felt the desperation of the wretched, the outcasts and wicked alike, who grasp at the promise of salvation and home.
In the middle of the doldrums of my faith, “Twin Suns” helped me glimpse the divine.
There is a masterpiece in her heart, and the woman doesn’t know how to react.
For the longest time, she simply sits. She sits, and she sees it. Her eyes take in every inch of the painting. Vaguely noticed, Jesus sits with her. He sits, and he sees her, and he smiles.
She will later realize it was the red, painted face in the desert sands that sparked it. That day, however, she only knows that she’s found herself once again cleaning an odd corner of her heart.
The next day, a different corner finds itself dusted, this time because a splash of blue and orange reminds her of the chair she keeps folded here. There’s the day the coffee percolates once more, prompted by warm paint strokes in the lower left.
Then there’s the day she props the door open again.
Trickling in, the sun warms those odd corners, and for a moment the woman remembers the compassion of which she’d been so proud.
Her heart feels welcoming again and also
– still a shack, of course –
but just maybe, even a little bit…
It helps, the way the sun catches the painting, sending a kaleidoscope of color across the corridor, even beautifying both seams. Just for a moment, the woman pretends her shack is the masterpiece mansion that smile of Jesus always sees.
Her momentary illusion shatters. The woman tries not to panic.
She never saw the second seam form, it looks as deep as the first, and worst of all, it’s under the painting. Neatly bisecting the painted face of red.
Her pace back from the doorway is slow. Reluctant, terrified, involuntary. It takes her past the first seam’s ravenous gape, and she glimpses the old haunts of the wastes. Twin shadows for twin seams. The woman wishes Jesus had visited today.
Relief blossoms, just a bit, as she takes a knee next to the new seam. Small, controlled, neat. It almost seems like…
Her fingers trace, right angles meeting her touch.
Under the painting is not a seam. Under the painting is a door.
On the other side, relief dies. It is not what she expects. It is not what she wants. It doesn’t make sense that such a masterpiece would lead here, to this.
The wasteland beyond the seam.
The woman watches the wastelands coalesce into a dilapidated mansion. She watches one of the shadows coalesce into familiarity. I watch the ruins coalesce into my childhood.
THE LESSON CHILDHOOD TAUGHT ME
In childhood, something in me broke. I didn’t realize it at the time. Sure, it hurt, but come on. What kid doesn’t feel like an outcast among their peers? It wasn’t like I could call it trauma.
If I was confined, if I was ignored, if I suffered, it doesn’t matter…
I soon learned not to cry.
(Watson, Jude. Star Wars Episode I Journal: Darth Maul)
It wasn’t one single event. I wasn’t abused. I wasn’t assaulted. I had a doting family. Rather, it was a lesson that stacked. A constant, ongoing noise that became the background radiation of my life, a simple expectation for any and all relationships.
When rejection came in my teenage years, with no explanation, I’d already learned the lesson well; walls were easy to rebuild. Survival had become instinctual, isolation comfortable. By the time in college, when someone confessed they’d only befriended me to get close to my family, I shrugged off the apology as unnecessary. It was rather refreshing, really, to have someone be forthright about it for once.
It was Irene who had been the first to teach the lesson to me years before. And as a child, it became my fundamental truth: I was an unwelcome burden, politely tolerated at best.
Sidious: Maul came to me as a child – a not-so-appreciated gift from Mother Talzin.
(Barlow, Jeremy. Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir. Issue #1)
I don’t know how old I was the first time it happened, or at least the first time I became aware of it, but the moment burned itself into my memory. We were mutual friends: Irene’s daughter, a pair of sisters, and me. Four little girls tight as a sailor’s knot and bound at the hip. Playing all day into the evening hours until our parents’ voices echoed through the neighborhood air, summoning us to dinner tables.
One such evening, as the sky turned a little darker than usual, I felt a surge of worry in my gut. Irene lived right across the alley; her daughter was home in no time. The sisters, however, lived another block over, which might as well have been a mile to our little legs. Enough of a walk for some ne’er-do-well to come along and snatch them before they could make their front steps.
I had no plan for what a small child like me would do against the dreaded adult of my imagination, but I didn’t have time to think. I bolted down the block to catch up with the sisters and escort them the rest of the way home. By the time I reached the corner, they were already illuminated by the light of their doorstep, safe and sound.
Embarrassed at my unreasonable imagination, I hid against a tree and waited, just to make sure the ne’er-do-well didn’t make a flying leap from the shadows and tackle one of the sisters into the night.
Sure enough, they stepped into the house, and I turned to leave, just as a van pulled into the driveway. Irene’s van. Perplexed, I stayed and watched through the branches as the sisters reemerged and climbed into the van, and Irene drove off with my friends. Without me.
I would later learn, as my three friends casually relayed their evening with the guilelessness only children can possess, that Irene had taken the three of them out to dinner as a special treat. I was not invited.
I did not understand, and I would never be given an explanation.
Maul: My mind reels. I have no focus. I am vulnerable. Why would [Sidious] turn against me? Have I displeased him?
(Williams, Rob. “Marked,” Star Wars Tales Volume 6.)
Throughout my childhood, the passive exclusions were the most frequent. Dinners at that same restaurant. Sleep-overs. Adventures to a cabin up north. Even in simple playdates that used to be an accepted norm in my life, I was treated more and more as an afterthought, if I was invited at all. But not every exclusion was passive.
A host of people gathered at Irene’s house for a party. So many adults, but more importantly, so many kids! Some attached to an invited adult, some not. My three close friends were there, alongside other exciting faces I rarely got to see. It was revelry. When the time came to eat dinner, out of all the adults, out of all the children, out of every mouth to feed, Irene singled me out and sent me home.
I was shattered, but I held my wailing until I was out of the house. After all, crying might guilt them into letting me stay, and it’s not polite to invite one’s self over.
It’s another moment I cannot place exactly, but the details that I do remember set it around second grade.
By third grade, this constant exclusion, this constant abandonment had become my new normal. I know this because of two details. The first is that 1999 was the year The Phantom Menace was released in theaters. Yes, hello Maul, but this bit isn’t actually about you. It’s about Jar Jar Binks.
Why do I get the feeling we’ve picked up another, pathetic life form?
(Lucas, George. The Phantom Menace)
Ahmed Best’s character was everything to me back then. Even as a kid, I knew it wasn’t just because he was funny. I knew something resonated with me emotionally.
Jar Jar was an awkward character who was cast out from the society he was raised in for a trivial reason. He was painfully unwanted by those around him, and yet he became a hero. Not by changing who he was – he’s as graceless and enthusiastic at the movie’s end as he was at the beginning – but by people learning to accept him. In the face of my own outcast status, Ahmed Best’s Jar Jar made me feel less lonely. He gave me hope.
In fact, Ahmed Best may very well have saved my life. He gave me an outlet to explore these emotions without becoming self-destructive.
Understand, it was also in third grade that I carved four words into a notebook: “I want to die.”
Some unknown trigger had struck me from my classmates. However unintentional, it was clear proof that I was unwanted in every part of my life. Which meant there was only one way out. One classmate noticed, and as she turned in alarm to call for teacher, I scrambled to cover. I never meant to share those words, but out my pain had come onto the page before I’d even realized it.
There’s a moment in the novel The Wrath of Darth Maul where Maul – also 7 or 8 years old at the time – is hit by the reality that he too is alone in his world. Without thinking, he paints his pain out on a wall, envisioning a window he can escape through. It’s a memory of a window he used to stand at, imagining that his reflection wasn’t just a reflection, but instead another boy who could help him.
It would be in my twenties that I would jot down my pain in a notebook again, sketching my own window through which I watched a larger world and wished for someone to come help me find it, because I couldn’t discover my own way out. Like Maul after his last fall from power – living in the remnants of his old life – abandoned places became familiar to me. After all, it wasn’t as if people enjoyed me. I was the person politely tolerated until I could be dismissed. If rejection was something always waiting for me around the corner, better to hide away before it could strike.
Some part of me knew this stemmed from my childhood, but calling it all trauma never crossed my mind.
I wasn’t broken. My heart was just sprained. I just had to keep numbing the pain until the swelling died down. I just had to ignore that my heart was malhealed, a crooked remnant and shadow of its former self. Ignore that it was just waiting for the right –
There would be moments that pulled me up short. Seasons where people would act out of sync with my fundamental truth. “Where were you?” they’d say. “We missed you,” they’d say. Hesitantly, I’d set my foot outside my shack of a heart.
– trigger. Maybe an act of rejection. Maybe something wholly unrelated. Didn’t matter.
Nothing mattered except getting myself safe. Alone. Abandon them before they could abandon me. Such was my reaction in the summer of 2018.
My glimpse of the divine during Advent 2017 had grown into a deep understanding of God’s heart for the oppressed. It felt like I finally knew my Jesus, like my disillusionment had turned to hope. There was much work ahead, and politics was still a dividing factor, but I was sure my fellow Christians and I would be united in compassion. When the immigration crisis came to light, I was sure I would not be alone.
But when I lifted my chin to speak, I was dismissed, both as a member of some phantom collective and as an individual. When I tried to reach across the aisle, I was flatly ignored. Those who did respond played up legalistic arguments to silence me. My compassion was slowly being choked by a multitude of hands I’d once trusted.
Looking back now, it was clear that I was not alone among Christians in compassion, but my ear had been trained to listen to rejection. A lesson I had learned oh so well. As it was, the voices of rejection grew louder and louder until a chorus of amens greeted a guest pastor’s off-hand dismissal of the plights of the oppressed. It was then that I stormed out of the sermon, rage clouding every inch of me.
My fury transformed reaching across the aisle from difficult to impossible. I couldn’t reach my fellow Christians if I hated them. I couldn’t find something to love unless I made a connection with them. And no matter how I tried, I simply couldn’t connect with anyone.
The anger was for their callousness, yes, but it was stoked by selfishness. By the fact that I had thought I’d at last found my place, only to be left isolated and alone as I fought a losing battle from without and within. In the middle of the heights of my faith, my old lesson came back to throttle me.
As with every trigger, it was as if all the habits I’d learned to survive Irene would kick into gear. I acted on instinct.
Maul’s thoughts cycled back to his early childhood, further back than he’d ever dared reflect… As painful as it had been, there was knowledge there, a realization that in the end, the galaxy was a cold and uncaring place that would never protect him. And if he was going to survive, it would only be because he would never give up…
Something broke open inside him, a vein of pure instinct that ran even deeper than his commitment to the mission.
(Schreiber, Joe. Maul: Lockdown.)
It was during a worship service that I gritted out a single, furious prayer, “What is wrong with me?”
August 15th, 2018. I dreamed of Irene.
Phantoms swarm the mansion wastes, sharing revelry amid the ruins, swallowing Irene’s shadow even as I call for her. These phantoms, these memories, are pressing in too close. My heart is a shack; I don’t have room for this! Irene, Irene! Where is Irene?
I push through. Shattered glass slips and spins beneath my feet. The foyer gives way to a wing, still swelling with phantoms. Ahead, turning a corner: Irene’s shadow.
I race. Doors fly past me, each one boarded or locked shut with chains. Without knowing, I feel where the hallways lead. Without conscious thought, I take a hidden passage. I catch her. But the question hitches on my breath.
Her feet quicker than my words, her shadow vanishes among the phantoms. My own feet give chase.
Again, I catch her. Steel myself, in;exhale, and imagine a shadow of satisfaction on her mouth’s corner as the phantoms swarm again.
A third time.
I square against her towering indifference, take a breath, and wake up.
“Why did you do this to me?” My question finally met air when there was no one to answer.
The phantoms of the past fade, Irene’s shadow joining them once more. The woman is left alone in the foyer, feeling the breath of the seam at her back, the familiar sounds of her heart, the shack. Her feet still, the crack of glass drifting to silence.
Almost no one.
She feels him before she sees him. The second shadow who haunted the seam, with a smile she knows so well. Her next question for him.
“What was that?” I asked, my face buried against pillows that are slowly soaking.
He settles to the floor and gently taps his finger on shattered glass. The woman’s eyes follow, and she sees a painted face reflected back.
Maul: Such is how you found me, brother. Discarded. Forgotten.
(“Revenge,” The Clone Wars)
Maul: The Sith… cast me aside. Abandoned me!
(“Twilight of the Apprentice,” Rebels)
Sidious howled with laughter…
“Oh, poor Maul. All he ever wanted was a friend.”
(Windham, Ryder. The Wrath of Darth Maul)
I had my answer. The incessant tapping on my heart now clearly echoed back into a part of me I’d locked away years ago
behind twin doors, shackled and boarded tight, slathered with crumbling plaster that cracks at a jagged, breathing seam where the doors meet. Her heart is the wastes, her shack merely the entryway to a mansion walled off, an act of survival from so long ago, she had forgotten it had a name.
And naming it is all it takes. One final time, the seam buckles. The long illusion shatters. Her heart the shack – the shack, her heart’s entryway – her last refuge – is laid bare to the wastes. No defenses left.
~~WHEN A BONE NEEDS RESETTING~~ It must break again. This is a good thing. This leads to better things. This still hurts.
It was like reliving every inch of the trauma, built up over two decades, in the span of seconds.
When my tears cleared my throat long enough to breathe,
a third question:
A gentle reply:
[Maul is] trying to figure out “Where did it all go wrong? Why do I feel so broken?” He’s maybe starting to ask… the right questions.
(Witwer, Sam. Interview with ComicBook.com)
The woman stares at the painted reflection in the shattered glass, pieces and patterns softly clinking into place.
Obi-Wan: I know where you’re from… I know the decision to join the Dark Side wasn’t yours. [They] made it for you.
(“The Lawless,” The Clone Wars)
It wasn’t my decision to develop trauma, but on August 15th, 2018, I could decide what to do with it. I could make the decision Maul never did.
I squared myself against the towering trauma, took a breath, and sent a text.
My childhood was defined by a set of lies masquerading as lessons. Persistent as they were, they were the easiest to believe. I remembered so little else. Just the lessons.
Maul: Always remember, I am filth. Always remember, I am nothing.
(“Brothers,” The Clone Wars)
The lessons were generous in their masquerade, presenting acts of love as strained tolerance and warm souls as two-faced. Those they could not remask were forced into obscurity. Memories became dreamlike in their disconnect with the fundamental lesson of my life: I was a burden unwanted.
On August 15th, 2018, I decided I was done believing that. I defied my lesson, and my bravery wore the mask of a text message.
It was a simple request to hang out, but that simple decision was mine. It was a decision to believe a better lesson: that I was worth a friendship offered to me months ago. It was a decision to heal.
As with the trauma, the healing has not been a single step, but rather increments that gradually build. As one example: I am not ready to reach across the aisle to some fellow Christians yet – I am still much too quick and burning in my anger – but to my delight, I found my hatred gone. My heart, the mansion, has room for both them and immigrants alike. The first step towards reconciliation.
Some steps have been less kind in the taking. These are the ones that threaten to misalign my heart and cause it to heal back crooked once more. But I have been fortunate. “”Twin Suns” has done more than help reset my malhealed heart; it has provided support as my heart regrows properly.
~~NOTABLE ADDITION TO AN APT METAPHOR~~ When a bone is broken, a splint helps to keep it steady. Helps to make sure it heals right. A splint is not meant to be permanent.
Triggered into a rather horrific breakdown, I texted a friend, looking for help (in itself, a step into healing). Unable to immediately come to me, my friend sent a grounding exercise she had used in managing her own trauma:
Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste.
Early as it was in the morning, I had been required to wait for a reply, all the while drowning in emotions that I could not get under control, which is ultimately the purpose of a grounding exercise: to pull yourself from an emotional state of mind to a logical one. Exactly what I needed.
But as I sent the initial text, knowing the time of day might mean a long wait, I was clawing for any degree of normalcy. By the time I’d received the reply (as quick as my friend had been able), I was halfway through “Twin Suns” and breathing easier.
Involuntarily, I had already completed the first two steps of the grounding exercise multiple times over.
As emotional as the story is for me, the craft of the piece and this close read had put me in the practice of making logical observations. It had become an automatic response of mine. In putting it on in the middle of my breakdown, “Twin Suns” became Baby’s First Grounding, steadying me enough to complete the exercise properly after my friend replied.
The trigger for that particular breakdown had been a memory of Irene’s neighborhood, a common place for me to revisit. In the first month or so of realizing I had trauma, my thoughts revolved around returning to the space I once called home, to try to find answers there. I spent days wondering what it would even look like to reconnect with those childhood friends, to confront Irene. How much anger would I have a right to? How many tears would I be allowed, both of mine and theirs?
With the desperation of a woman learning to reclaim her self-worth, I carved words again into a journal: “I deserve closure. I deserve closure.”
Maul: Trust me, Ezra. I only want the answers I deserve, nothing more.
(“Visions and Voices,” Rebels.)
The reality of their personhood hit home. Irene, her daughter, our friends, they all had lives far beyond me. Even as that fact carved painfully against my old wound, the picture of Maul’s desperation reflected back at me: a warning against the bitterness ready on my tongue. He and I had a right to healing, yes, but we did not have the right to tear down the world around us in our desperate climb towards it. I began seeking other, better paths, gently redirected by the familiarity of Maul’s sand-ridden screams.
Slowly, I am growing beyond these supports. I’ve not used “Twin Suns” in place of a grounding exercise since; the real thing is much more effective. I’ve needed Maul’s reflection less and less as a warning to steer me away from unhealthy reactions to the past I’m rediscovering. But that doesn’t lessen their importance.
~~CONCLUSION TO AN APT METAPHOR~~ A splint is temporary. Its effects are eternal.
There is a pile of shattered glass swept into a corner now. Another boarded door or two has been cracked open down one of the wing’s hallways. She hasn’t even seen the whole of her heart yet.
The woman allows herself to dream as she sets to work. Her heart is a mansion; how many could she fit in here? How many disparate groups might find reconciliation in these halls?
Far-off dreams, perhaps, but she knows for sure that she is not alone.
As she hears the coffee percolating from the old shack, she gives a smile that she would find familiar, if she could see it. Maybe there’ll be room not just for Jesus to visit, but room for him to stay. She thinks she’ll like that. She thinks she’s going to like her heart.
It’ll take some work, but then so did the painting that brought her here. Masterpieces such as these are worth the effort.
~~TWITTER CHALLENGE REDUX~~ Lured from home by wond’rous mystery, She recognized a soft tragedy. Free of the lie, She found her place to abide, Thanks to the old men and the Dune Sea.
The world has enough teachers like Dr. Scary and Irene, ones who masterfully impress the fundamental rules of the world upon their student but brook no challenge to the lesson. In physics, that simply meant the concepts, as beautifully presented as they were, would eventually leave no lasting impact. As frustrating as that was, physics and I were free to part ways, a degree in my hand. It defined four years of my life and no more.
It was not so with Irene’s lesson. Dr. Scary brooked no question because he expected perfection. Irene’s lesson brooked none because it thrived on my stagnation. For the lesson of my trauma to live, it needed to shut down any and all challenges, because it was in fact a lie that would not hold. My survival instincts had become its, and so to find freedom, Jesus would need to lead me by a secret way inside the wastes.
He would need to lead me by other teachers. The ones whose stories encourage exploration. The ones who paint a masterpiece and say “come see, come ask!” Ones who probably don’t even know that they were my teachers, but their lessons – big or small – were full of life and have withstood time and lies.
Even just naming those teachers from “Twin Suns,” the cast and crew who wove freedom from tragedy, would leave out the teachers who built the foundation in Star Wars past. Even naming the ongoing supporters and readers of this close read would leave out my family, who swarmed me in embrace as I shared details of my rediscovered trauma.
So, to everyone who brought me here today, to everyone reading this, thank you for changing my life. If our paths ever meet along this journey, let’s stop together for a visit. My heart has room. I’ll keep the coffee on.