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Glimpses: Jumanji – Welcome to the Jungle

by Steve Brock on April 9, 2018

Glimpses: a new series

 

Today starts a periodic series here on The Meaningful Traveler that moves beyond travel to explore glimpses of meaning that can be found not only in travel but in popular culture, in particular books and movies. This isn’t highbrow literary critique as today’s first Glimpse reveals. However, I hope you find it both interesting and even helpful.

Welcome to the Jungle

The premise of the movie, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” defies reason. Which is what makes it work. Four high school students stumble upon an old video game console. When they turn it on, select their character avatars for the game and hit “Start,” the fun begins.

Each is transported — in a sort of vaporized and vacuumed manner — into the video game. They each land in the middle of a jungle. The primary humor of the movie derives from the fact that in the game, each student is now in the body of their avatar character. The nerd ends up as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The tall football player gets the not-so-tall body of Kevin Hart. The intellectual female student ends up in the Lora Croft-like-shorts-and- leather-top-clad body of Karen Gillan. And in, to me, the funniest role of the movie, the oh-so-into-herself hottie student (wait a second: does anyone still say “hottie?” Or “babe?” “Fox?” How about “sizzlin’ siren?”) ends up as the pith-helmet-wearing professor played by Jack Black. Yep. Nacho Libre as a girl in a man’s body.

That’s the setup. The rest of the movie is mildly amusing with interludes that cause laughs as big as Dwayne Johnson’s biceps. Or almost. But it isn’t the humor we’re after here on our little trek through the jungles of Jumanji.

Going deeper

Instead, to me the glimpse of something more comes near the end of the movie which pretty much ensures this requires a SPOILER ALERT. The four characters, now friends, have achieved their goal in Jumanji and are preparing to return to their real lives. When only two characters remain, one says to the other something to the effect of, “What if we stayed here? We could keep these new bodies and our new selves.” To which the other replies, “Or we could go home and be our new selves in our own bodies.”

It’s far more dramatic — for a comedy — in the film than my rendition here, but it brings up an interesting question: Who are we really? Could those characters have become their new selves at home? Or did it take some extraordinary event — in this case getting new bodies and corresponding skill sets — and a new community (none of the characters were friends before their transformation) to become who they now are? Is our identity fixed or can we become more than we perceive ourselves to be?

Where does identity come from?

Certainly every self-help book would affirm our ability to become the better — make that best, no bestest — version of ourselves. But in real life, what causes that change? Does it come from inside or out?

Yes.

I’ve seen a lot of people that want to change. But I’ve only known a few that have. As in really change. Not haircut or new diet or move to the big city or midlife-crisis change. Change as in a fundamental altering (or is it clarifying?) of their identity. And almost all of those that become something much greater than they were before did so because of something radical from both within and without.
That may have been the combination of community and a “higher power” through a recovery program like AA. Or it may have been because someone loved them and invested in their life enough to alter their trajectory, someone who saw them as more than they saw in themselves.

Or it may have been because the person turned to God in the realization that their current plan and path in life wasn’t working. But as much as we love to praise the “self-made man” or the woman who has “pulled herself up by her bootstraps,” I’ve rarely seen a significant improvement in a person’s character come about all by themselves.

The limits of ourselves

In short, we need each other and something or Someone beyond us to help us become what we were meant to be. It takes a person or situation beyond us to draw out what lies within us. That may be an intense struggle, family or friends who never give up, extreme hardship or a transcendent experience. But we can’t do this thing called life alone, even when it comes to something as individualistic as our own identity. After all, even the characters in Jumanji needed each other.

Oh, that and that freaky video game.

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Travel, loss and memory

by Steve Brock on August 3, 2016

Panting GingerWhat I’m about to write is unfinished business. I likely should not even share these thoughts until they are better formed and understood. But because I’m wandering in the realm of emotions here, I fear that by the time I gain a more complete intellectual understanding of it all, I will have lost the deeper power and meaning of the experience.

*******

Four days ago, we had to put our beloved Labrador Retriever, Ginger, to sleep. I always thought that expression – putting an animal to sleep – was a euphemism: no one wants to own up to what you’re really doing. But after stroking Ginger’s head as the vet gave her the injection and she gently closed her eyes for the last time, I realize how appropriate the phrase is.

All during the almost 13 years that we’ve had Ginger, whenever a family member would project human emotions or perceived understanding on her, I would say, “C’mon. She’s just a dog.” But as any pet owner of good will and generous spirit learns, that’s not really true. Ginger wasn’t just a dog. She was our dog. And now part of us is gone.

Ginger

*******

Today I ran into a friend I see every few months. My wife and I have been praying for her husband who has been battling cancer for the last few years. I found out today that he recently passed away.

I think the tears that came unbidden mattered more than any words I could say to her. Tears that flowed easier for me due to my own sadness. If grief were a game of comparisons, I would lose. But it’s not. Grief is instead something we simply share. Something we stumble our way through…together.

My friend said how hard it is now to be only a person, not a couple. To find a task at home that required her husband’s strength. To see an object of his and remember. And then she wondered if that will last: Will she reach a point where she ceases to remember? She worried that she might forget him. I have wondered the same thing about Ginger. But then I assured her she will not. And here’s how I know.

*******

GingerYesterday I walked through the park where we used to let Ginger run free to retrieve a thrown ball or stick. If I had to convey in one single image of what pure joy looks like, it would be Ginger running toward me, stick in mouth, full throttle in undiminished, exquisite happiness.

People refer to “a stab of pain” when a memory hits hard. But it’s more, to me, like a constriction. In your throat, your lungs, your gut. That’s how it was there in the park. The memory came and then a wave of sadness washed over me even as I was beginning to reassemble the pieces of that memory. And slowly, amidst the sadness, the happy time came into focus only to have that overshadowed by the realization I will never see Ginger run with such joyful abandonment again. Pain. Tenderness. Loss. Delight. Repeat.

As I thought about it, the moment reminded me in a very small way of that bittersweet feeling you have when traveling. Where you encounter people and places that move you in ways you didn’t know you could be moved. And then, even as you are wanting to stay forever in that moment, you’re not. You are the one moving. Away. Beyond. Back to a life so unlike what you have just experienced.

I realize that longing from a trip and the death of a loved one aren’t even close in impact and importance. But they do share this: They are feelings, conflicted ones. And both are forms of loss that have taught me something important: how to nurture a memory.

I know how to stay in that moment of deep pain or mere discomfort long enough for it to settle into something more. Something redemptive. Something that, while hard, will eventually reinforce and clarify what is good. And I believe my friend understands this as well.

But if she does not, I will share that with her. For it is in sharing and reminding, of laughing together at the good memories and being there for each other during the hard ones, that we hold onto what we have lost. We will, on our own, eventually lose some of the details and fine points in what we remember. But through each other and the artifacts of life – objects, familiar places, photographs and stories – we will be reminded. Of a sweet smile, a tender touch or in my case, the sheer joy of a dog running with a stick.

We won’t forget.

Ginger and Connor

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Travel and trust – Part 2

by Steve Brock on May 21, 2014

Delft MusiciansWhen I was a kid, my brother offered me an intriguing experiment. He claimed he could pull a hair from my head without me feeling it. Being the gullible younger brother, I said, “No way,” but let him proceed. He grasped a single strand, tugged gently saying, “That’s the one. Feel it?” “Yep,” I replied. “OK. Here I go. On the count of three you won’t feel me pull it out. One. Two. Three!”

On “Three,” he slammed his other hand down hard on my head. Despite the near concussion and my anger at his deception, I had to admit it was a pretty clever ruse. Painful. But clever.

Pickpocketing works on the same principle: Distract your target and mask a smaller movement and pressure (the removal of the wallet…or phone) with a larger one (e.g. bumping into the target or say, saddling up right next to him in a friendly photo pose. Just as an example, of course).

So there I am in Delft. I’ve listened to the Serbian musicians play, chatted and laughed with them, taken their photo as they took mine – side-by-side with their leader (third from the left in the photo above). Then, as I walk away, I realize my smart phone is missing.

What would you think at that moment? Maybe your thoughts might run something like this (if you would ever actually admit these to anyone):

  1. Don’t panic.
  2. When did I last use my phone?
  3. Double check all my pockets, etc.
  4. Could it be? Did they really steal my phone?
  5. No way.
  6. Way. Or at least a possibility.
  7. They’re from Serbia. Serbia is in that region where the Roma (gypsies) live, right? Aren’t they known for stealing things and doing scams?
  8. Don’t think like that. That’s profiling, stereotyping and all sorts of other bad things. But…
  9. When did I last use my phone? In the car for navigation. Could I have left it there? Please, oh please, God let it be there…

And off I walk as fast as I can back to the car.

On the way I think about going back to where the group was performing. But what will I say to them if I do?

“Hi there, fellas. Say, you didn’t by chance steal my phone did you? And if so, could I have it back? No hard feelings. Love your music.”

I’m saved from that by finding they’ve all dispersed…which only furthers my suspicion. All except one. He’s sitting not far from where the group had been playing. He’s casually talking to his wife or girlfriend. He sees me and waves in an ever-so-friendly manner.

Either he’s really milking this scam or he’s as innocent as he seems. I wave back in a half-hearted manner trying to look like either I know what’s going on or I’m just in a rush to meet up with my family. I hurry on, feeling even more awkward about the whole thing.

It takes me almost 20 anxious minutes to get back to my car. All the way there, I’m praying to find the phone, praying for forgiveness for my judgmental thinking, praying not to be so stupid in the future.

I get to the car.

Not only is the phone there, it’s sitting on the console between the front seats where I left it when using it for navigation. Right there where, ironically, anyone could have seen it, busted the window and stolen it.

I want to run back. Find my Serbian friends (they’re friends again, of course, not suspects now) and apologize for something I could never really explain to them without insult and embarrassment.

So I don’t. I simply wander back to where I’m to meet my wife and son. As I go, I think about several lessons from this experience.

First, always be vigilant when you travel. Keep track of your valuables like your phone. Always.

Second, be careful but extend grace. I won’t make some Pollyannaish pronouncement to just trust everyone everywhere. There are people out there that do prey on us tourists. You do have to be careful. But wariness is a tricky thing. The more protective we become, the more it shapes how we respond to people in general, even if they haven’t earned our distrust. We close ourselves off to the very people we’d often like to meet.

Interestingly, the more we do the first point – be vigilant – the easier it is to do the second point – extend grace. When we know where our stuff is, we have less to worry about. Even better, the less we’re lugging around with us, the less we need to protect.

Each situation will be different. Sometimes wariness is the right response. But for me, I will try to err on the side of trust. What I found is that you lose more than your phone when you stop trusting people. You lose a little bit of your own humanity.

I can’t afford to lose that.

 

Read Part 1 if you haven’t yet.

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Travel and trust – Part 1

by Steve Brock May 9, 2014

An encounter with a Serbian band in Delft in the Netherlands reveals both the joys of solo travel and also some of its challenges.

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Coincidental travel

by Steve Brock November 21, 2013

When we meet strangers on a trip, it’s easy to assume those are just chance encounters. But we may be wrong about that assumption…

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The full story – Part 3

by Steve Brock September 25, 2013

As I discovered in Frankfurt with some dear friends, it may take years, but sometimes travel affords us the opportunity to say what needs to be said and to complete what needs closure.

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A letter from my first week home this year

by Steve Brock February 22, 2013

When you travel for eight weeks straight, it takes a toll on you. And then – gasp! – you realize that maybe travel isn’t all you thought it was.

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