Sunday, January 13, 2013

My Story and Hugo's Story

I first encountered Victor Hugo's story, Les Miserables, around the age of 10 or 11.

Dad bought tickets and informed my younger brother and I that our family was going to see a musical, which wasn't the news we expected or wanted to hear. In preparation for "The Miserable" performance (did you see what I did there?), our family listened to the soundtrack for the first time in our living room. We followed along with the lyrics to the songs, which forced an interesting dialogue as my dad had to explain what a "pimp" was to the two of us. This preview was dad's only possible attempt to make the price of our tickets defensible.

Since then, I've seen the stage musical at least 5 times. I've seen the newest movie 2 times. And I've committed myself to reading the unabridged novel by the end of 2013.

What can I say? I've grown up with the story. The story has changed me as much my perspective of the story has changed over the years.

I remember the question dad posed to us when we entered the car after our first experience with Les Miserables. "What did you think?"

And I said, "I don't get it. I feel sorry for Javert. I don't understand why Valjean's the hero. They picked the wrong hero!"

For those of you who don't know the story, Jean Valjean finds himself freed from his prison sentence after 19 years of hard labor that made him a harder man. The story follows his transformation from hardened criminal to grace-filled hero. But throughout the story, his long-time nemesis, Inspector Javert lurks in the shadows to bring Valjean to justice. Javert knows that criminals cannot be rehabilitated. Javert sees the world in black and white. But through a series of incredible encounters between protagonist and antagonist, Victor Hugo spins a timeless narrative that unveils the gospel in shocking ways.

For those of you who know the story better, it might be hard to understand my soft spot for Javert. But the truth was I had caught a legalistic bug from my faith tribe that gave me a lens for the world much like Javert's. It was a black and white worldview that had no room for shades of gray. I missed Hugo's genius because I had been gospelled in story other than the gospel.

This was disconcerting for my say the least. He hadn't bought me a ticket so that I could side with Javert. And his preaching and parenting certainly hadn't led me to my dislike of the story.

But over time, as my experiences have colored my black and white worldview, I have grown to love and appreciate Les Miserables in more nuanced ways.

I've grown up with this story. And the story has evolved inside of me each time of seen it. I've sided with Javert, seen the story through the eyes of a teenager who found the love story between Marius and Cosette most relevant, rooted for Valjean as I needed grace in my own life, and I'm guessing a day will come when I understand more of Valjean's struggle to hand over my own Cosette to some young man who wants to take Addison away from me.

Every person chooses a story to inhabit. Some people choose good stories. Others live in poor stories. But we each have a story.

Les Miserables is my story. I recognize myself in it. I recognize my God in it. I've found my place in it and it won't let me go.


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