Therefore, dark past,
I’m about to do it.
I’m about to forgive you
– Mary Oliver, from WHAT DO WE KNOW
I saw the new movie Leave No Trace this week and was deeply moved by the story. I left the theater with a heavy heart – acutely aware of the pain so many people carry around inside of themselves. And then I came across this Mary Oliver quote and thought about how hard it is to begin the journey deep inside to those dark places allowing the light to illuminate what’s hidden there. In my experience, this is the way the journey to forgiveness begins, whether it be of self or other. Sometimes forgiving oneself – for what we’ve done to our unique, precious beings – is harder than forgiving others.
There’s little back story in the movie, but there is one clue to Will’s (Ben Foster) pain – a newspaper article about a Marine suicide squad, of which we get a few-seconds glimpse as his young teenage daughter Caroline/Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) sneaks a look through papers he’s left in full view in a zip-lock bag on the couch of one of their ever changing residences in the deep woods of Forest Park, Oregon. And, there’s the never-answered question of what happened to Caroline’s mother. Although, there are many other questions that come up for me during the movie – for instance, how long had they been living in the woods? – the story is so compelling my questions don’t seem to matter. The present – what’s happening inside the father-daughter relationship as the drama of their return to the world of houses, furniture, and human interactions unfolds on the screen and inside my being – is what carries me.
One thing I do wonder about throughout the film is how each of them understands the circumstances of their capture. Along with that, I’m curious about how each of them comes to grips with his/her separateness from the other, when for so long it seems they may have lived as one being – together in everything, including their minds and hearts. The story never speaks to either question directly, but as the film unfolds we see in their faces and body-language, and hear in their words exchanged, something of the inner workings of Will and Caroline, as they understand more about themselves and each other.
The story is simultaneously a heartbreaking, and a deeply liberating tale of two people who deeply love and feel each other, and struggle, inside of that love, with their own pasts. Caroline has her unshared story about her mother, and the beautiful, yet isolated, life she shared with her father in the deep, accepting woods. Will, it seems, has a darker past, and certainly a longer one, which we never know much about but, which by the end of the movie, has me weeping for his pain, and for the depth of pain present in many configurations in our world today. A pain that I sense may be wedged deeply within the collective heart and soul of our world conscience.
Now I’m asking myself why I wrote this post. Maybe to remind myself how much I appreciate the opportunity to connect with the empathic, compassionate part of me that can, after many years of frozen feelings, finally feel deeply again. Through well-told stories, I have the chance to see and feel into the lives of others, to open my mind to other realities, and hopefully, soften my judgments. I’m offered a way to connect with my own dark past, and my personal and collective, on-going liberation and self-forgiveness. As my own journey of discovery into the dark places where I’ve held much of myself hostage for many years continues to unfold, I realize that the feeling of freedom – to love, to weep, to create, to relate, and simply to be without fear – deepens when I dive down and let the light in, no matter how grave my fear. In those times when fear pokes it’s head in to deter me, I remember how the universal good energy has had my back so many times before, and how, like I heard from a dream analyst many years ago, the universe (God, infinity, the cosmos, good juju) would never put a challenge before me that I could not handle. My biggest challenge to feeling free is most always my fear of change, of the unknown, and I know that by not allowing change, not stepping into the unknown, I continue to be a prisoner, hiding and running.
Maybe Will’s dark places, his demons, are just too overwhelming to even fathom. I cannot know another’s reality. Maybe that’s why I left the theater with such a deep grief. So, where is the liberation? Caroline comes to realize certain things as she and her father maneuver awkwardly outside of the woods. I wonder if the light inside her shone so brightly it was seen by the forest workers without her intending it. Her father had taught her so many things about survival – and my guess is her young self listened well, and learned things she and her father never realized were being taught. I imagine she will find her own sense of freedom, and continue to grow in her love for her father and her understanding of his pain.
I love movies!