meaning

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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Who would know?

by Steve Brock on June 15, 2017

Who would know? Pathway and treesLong before we ever had cable or the Internet (yes kids, there was such a time), a local television station used to run old movies every evening at 8 p.m. One summer evening as a kid of maybe eight or nine, having apparently nothing better to do, I gave this channel a shot. I had never before paid attention to any movie older than I was. But soon I was immersed in an old Bob Hope movie, Son of Paleface, and it was more entertaining than most of the more recent movies I’d seen.

A whole new world opened to me that evening. I realized that these so-called classic movies could be, well, actually good. But another epiphany occurred that evening as well.

In the movie, Bob Hope’s character at several points says or does something funny even though no other actors are in the scene. As a kid, I didn’t make the obvious connection that he was doing that for us, the audience. At the time, what struck me was that you could make a joke or do an amusing antic that no one else would ever see. But it wouldn’t matter. You did it just for you.

Who would know? Tree stumpFlash forward to last weekend when my wife and I were hiking. On a pristine trail with few signs of human intervention other than the pathway itself, we came across an old tree stump with a new tree growing out of it. I had walked right past the tree on our way out. But on the return, I noticed something unusual.

Someone had adhered a set of googly eyes to the trunk. A closer look revealed not just one set, but many. In fact, when I began inspecting the dead tree, I realized that there were these small quarter-inch or smaller white plastic circles with black dots inside them all over the tree.

Who put them there? Why? Did they leave all these eyes at once? Or did they start with just a few and other people added to it over time?

My response to Son of Paleface came flooding back. What if someone had done this just for themselves? Or perhaps a group of friends had added the eyes just as an inside joke among them? Whatever the back story, it raised some intriguing (well, at least to me, which is part of the point here) questions:

  • Who would know? Googly eyesDoes anyone else need to ever see the work (or joke or art or whatever) that you do for it to have meaning?
  • Is there even greater value when you do something anonymously, almost as a gift to others?
  • Can random acts of kindness (or humor or creation) have halo effects and continue long beyond their original intentions?
  • How much do I do because I care what people think about me or my work? What if I did more things that no one ever knew were mine? What would happen? To them? To me?

All this reminded me of my oldest son who is a graphic designer. He periodically goes out and finds some item — a piece of broken pottery, an abandoned display case, an old sign — brings it home and paints it or adds some other media to make it into a work of art. He then returns the enhanced piece to the place he found it. Trash to treasure.

He never knows if anyone ever even sees the work. But it doesn’t matter. Or maybe it does. Maybe the fact that he doesn’t know how people respond to it is the best part of it.

Who would know? Eyes on branch

What if we did more of our work as if we didn’t care what others thought? What if we didn’t worry about the response to our efforts but simply strove to add beauty or humor or interest or hope in even the most unlikely places? What if no one knew we did any of this except for God? And what if we invited God into our secret creations and acts of beauty and good will?

What if?

 

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The mystery beyond

by Steve Brock on March 27, 2016

Mystery stepsLately, I’ve been curious about curiosity. I’ve wondered about different types of curiosity and how to (and why one would want to) enhance your curiosity. But I’ll be honest. Curiosity, while critical to learning, innovation and discovery, has always felt like the superficial cousin to the deeper concept of mystery.

A curiosity, like the right response on Jeopardy, may be fun to know. But mystery invites us in on a deeper level.

When I travel, I am relentlessly curious. I want to know more about the people, places and cultures I visit. On most trips, my desire to learn remains at the curiosity level. Where I regularly cross over into the world of the mysterious isn’t when I’m exploring some ancient ruin or a dark forest. It’s when I return from my trip.

The greatest mysteries of travel tend to occur after we get home when we’re trying to figure out what the whole trip meant. It is in the return when I have to confront the bigger questions: How have I changed? What do those changes mean for my life moving forward? What have I become and what am I becoming as a result of this trip?

These questions can lead to others (and even, occasionally some answers) that both make complete sense even as they don’t.

Which leads me to today. I write this on Easter morning. I used to see this day not as one of mystery, but of revelation. Mystery was wrapped up in the darkness of the Cross on Good Friday. Resurrection Sunday, in my mind, has always been the bright day when all the answers become clear.

Now, I’m not so sure. As with travel and coming home to confront all that we have learned and are becoming, I think the mystery is just beginning. We’re given enough to grasp the basic story of death, resurrection, the forgiveness of sins and the hope of everlasting life as a result. But for me, what lies beyond the Resurrection now holds the deeper mystery. Not on a cosmic or theological level so much as on a personal one.

Simply put, what does it mean to live in light of the Resurrection?

Easter reminds me that just like returning from a trip, I have to be curious enough to engage the mystery. I have to wrestle with the tension of not knowing. I have to keep pursuing answers even when the questions themselves aren’t clear and to realize that the few answers I do get may be as uncomfortable as they are ultimately satisfying.

So why do I do this? Why pursue the mystery that lies beyond the trip or beyond the empty tomb? Because in the journey, in the struggle through the mystery itself, is where we find life. It’s become almost bumper-sticker trite to say that the value of the trip is found not in the destination but in the journey. But I think the Resurrection reveals to us an added and often missing dimension.

The deeper value is not in the journey on the trip and nor in the destination, but in the journey after the destination. The stone rolled away from that tomb reveals both the completion of one story and the beginning of an entirely new one. The mystery of both travel and the Resurrection is that the journey we thought we were wrapping up is only just now starting. We have entered a place of closure only to find a doorway to a brand new adventure.

It’s a mystery we’re not meant to solve. Instead, it’s one we’re invited to celebrate, be part of, discover – and live.

 

 

 

 

 

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Follow these five principles or elements of a good story and those travel tales you tell after a trip will definitely be better

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