Today I’m sharing the second in a series of guest posts, a piece by Paul Heggie. He’s discussing pain, and the correlating temptation to view people as monsters, which is something I’m sure we can all relate to on some level.
Here is what he had to say:
If you’re in the market to make a monster movie, here are some tips:
Make a monster who lurks in the dark, the shadows, or the murky depths. Think of Dracula, who moves in and out of the shadows as if he was one with them, or Jaws rising out of the blackness of the ocean, or those creepy zombie/vampire/mutant creatures from I Am Legend.
Make a monster who is relentless and never gives up on the chase. Think of Jason and the black holes in his mask, the robotic steel will of the Terminator, or those raptors and their door-opening skills in Jurassic Park.
You can give a monster some terrifying features- the head and teeth of the Xenomorph alien from the Alien films, the cringe-worthy cranium of Pinhead from Hellraiser, or the straight-out-of-a-bad-taco-induced-nightmare Pale Man from Pan’s Labrynth (check him out only if you’re okay with not sleeping for the next three months).
Or you just make a monster with an incredible appetite for destruction. Godzilla. Every single superhero-movie villain from this decade. Me, at your nearest all-you-can-eat buffet. (It’s ugly, and I’m not proud.)
Hollywood studios have given us hundreds and hundreds of monsters big and small. They churn them out at a rate almost as high as the rate at which I re-watch all of the seasons of Parks and Rec. (Read: All. The. Time.) The art of creating a monster doesn’t have to be confined to the lot of a studio in L.A., though.
We can make monsters in real life just as easily.
All I need is someone who betrayed me. Someone who broke my heart, manipulated me, lied to me, used me, cheated me out of money, violated my trust, or took me for granted. Someone who’s done something I disagree with or holds a view that makes me cringe. Or all of the above.
For example, there’s a person I would love to make into a monster. I would love to tell stories that paint her into the shadows, sharpen her teeth, and cover her hands in blood. It would be easy for me to piece together a montage of the carnage she left in her wake and pan the camera across a pile of bodies- all of the people she hurt or abandoned. I could make her the next Voldemort, the next Predator, the next fuzzy-friend-turned-killer Gremlin.
I could tell a compelling story with her as the monster. We all could do this, right?
In the aftermath of being hurt by someone, disappointed by someone, let down by someone, some part of me wants there to be a monster in the story. It lets me justify my anger and hold onto it a little longer. It’s easier to trash a monster with my words. It feels better to imagine someone’s downfall when they’re a monster. We want to say, “He stabbed me in the back.” She cut my heart out. He’s cold-blooded. She’s crazy. He’s a terrible person. She’s the worst. Like. The worst.
That’s the easier story to tell. The simpler story. Me versus the monster.
Or I could tell a different story.
It’s not a monster story. It’s a people story. It’s a story about two people, who both felt people feelings, who had people problems, who made people mistakes, and after all was said and done, were both still people. Do I sound redundant yet? It seems like a no-brainer, but more often than not, when pain is involved, people start to transform into monsters in the stories we tell.
Pain wants to tell a monster story.
Pain is a crazy thing. It’s unpleasant, it hurts, it’s even unbearable at times, but we need it. Pain is a signal- it lets us know when something’s wrong and it keeps us from further harming ourselves. While it makes for a great warning flare, pain makes for a terrible filter through which we try to narrate the story of our lives.
If we allow pain to tell our story, we turn normal humans into blood-sucking carnivores who are without redemptive quality and who don’t deserve to be understood or given grace.
I don’t want to tell that kind of story in my life. I don’t want the stories with grace written out of the script.
Grace reminds me this person is a person.
Grace reminds me that none of us are perfect. Grace reminds me that most of the time, people are doing the best they can with what they have. Grace reminds me to hope for what’s best. Grace reminds me that what’s best is healing.
That’s the way this goes. Pain wants to make monsters. Grace wants to bring healing.
Grace shrinks a Godzilla back down to human size, drops the scales to reveal soft skin underneath, rounds out the sharpened pupils, and transforms what was a creature with black blood in its veins into a person who looks, acts, feels, and bleeds like me. And people like me are a bit easier to understand and a tad more deserving of compassion than a monster.
I’m doing my best to keep pain from telling my story.
I want grace to tell my story, a story about people who fall and who rise, who hurt and who forgive, who create more beauty than they destroy, who bind up more hearts than they break.
I’ll leave the monsters to Hollywood.
Paul teaches writing for the most sane and stable age group possible, middle school. He is also a teaching pastor, a writer, a semi-professional car napper (which means he takes naps in his car, not that he is a car thief), and loves ice cream maybe more than what’s healthy. You can find him at www.paulfrankheggie.com and on Twitter @paulfrankheggie.