Debby and the Wrestler:
Holy Thursday: April 9, 2009
by Andrew Highland
I recently saw the new movie, "The Wrestler." In the movie, Mickey Rourke stars as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a professional wrestler who was very successful and popular in the 1980s but whose glory days are now long gone. Randy seems to be unable to imagine a different kind of life for himself, and so he continues to wrestle, trying to live the kind of life he lived as a celebrity.
Night after night, Randy punishes his middle-aged body, performing in front of small crowds in public school gyms and local community centers. After the shows, he drags his weary body to the trailer where he lives, only to sometimes find that he has been locked out after failing to pay his rent. Randy's only friend is a single mother named Pam, who works as a stripper at Randy's favorite night club, and his only family member is his adult daughter who now resents him because he left when she was a child.
Many of the people in the community where I work are like Randy. They may imagine lives that could be different, but they often settle for what they know, for the things which are comfortable and familiar. Generations of families grow up in the same trailer park; they don't seem to expect much out of life, and they often reap what they have sown. Many of them are caught in cycles of poverty, struggling against the many systems in our society which seem to be against them.
Every once in a while, though, someone seems to change. Debby, one of the residents of the trailer park where our office is located, has spent most of her life working minimum-wage jobs; most recently, she worked the night shift at a local nursing home. This past summer, she worked with the teenagers in our summer program; together, they did numerous building and painting projects around the community.
Near the end of the summer, I overheard Debby tell someone that she works with our organization because it is a place where she feels like she belongs, a place where she feels needed. At the end of the summer, Debby decided that she wanted to go back to school and become a teacher. This past fall, she enrolled in classes at the local community college and also began a job as a teacher's aide.
In John's Gospel, Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment to love one another as he has loved them. For many people like Debby, loving and serving others seems to come pretty easily. It may be that the challenge for some of us is to love ourselves as we love our neighbors.
Randy only loved himself when the crowd was cheering, and his hunger for love led him down a path of destruction, damaging his ability to love others. Debby found a way to reach out beyond herself in love and service to others. In doing so, she found herself, giving her loved ones and herself the best gift she could give, and giving glory to God.
At the prayer service at the National Cathedral on the morning after President Obama's Inauguration, the preacher told a story that comes from the Cherokee. In the story, a grandfather tells his grandson, "Within every person are two wolves that are fighting. One is the wolf of anger, resentment, and fear. The other is the wolf of compassion, hope, and love."
"Which wolf wins?" asks the grandson.
His grandfather answers, "The one you feed."
I hope that all of us will find ways to feed the wolf of compassion, hope, and love, loving others as Jesus loves us, and loving ourselves as we love our neighbors.
Andrew Highland is a church and community worker with Looking Glass Community Services in Laingsburg, Michigan.
Date posted: Mar 10, 2009