What Grieving People Wish You Knew by Nancy Guthrie, Free for CAPC Members
Nancy Guthrie’s overwhelming message in What Grieving People Wish You Knew is to enter into the awkwardness and difficulty of loving grieving people.
[su_note note_color=”#d5d5d5″ text_color=”#91201f”]On this 25th anniversary of the classic Christmas film, the Stations of Home Alone are theological meditations on iconic scenes from the story of a boy forgotten by his family and left to survive on his own. They are presented here as a way of reflecting more deeply on the spiritual reality of our shared humanity in the film and holiday season—whether we are left to ourselves or surrounded by those we love.[/su_note]
Old Man Marley is the grizzled neighbor, wispy white hair and gray beard, dirty bandages wrapped around his hands. We see him through the eyes of the young protagonist, Kevin Mcallister, a terrifying glimpse into a future of loneliness, of slowly shoveling salt into the icy streets. Right before the climax of the film, before the pratfalls and pranks—the Wet Bandits getting their comeuppance, the mother coming home to hug her forgotten child—Kevin decides to go to church, which is where he meets Old Man Marley.Old Man Marley has an insight into how Christ had come for the sick and the sad, which was why in the end he is redeemed.
The church appears earlier in the film, large and Catholic and with a life-sized nativity convenient for hiding Kevin as the bandits drive past. “Maybe he went inside,” Marv says. Harry looks warily up at the steeple, his gold tooth glinting in the sun. “I don’t wanna go in there,” he says, the refrain of those who in truth don’t feel as though they would ever be welcomed inside. And so they they drive on by.
But now it is Christmas Eve, and Kevin is inside the church, and there is a choir singing in angelic voice: Long lay the world in sin and error pining / til He appeared and the soul felt its worth. The old man is in the pew across the aisle. Kevin looks terrified for a moment, but before he can run away, the man has slipped in next to him starting a quiet conversation. “This is a good place to be if you feel bad about yourself,” the old man says, piercing the heart.
Kevin is too young to understand this, but in the way that children do, he turns the question back to the old man. We hear a story of estrangement, of proud men with tempers, a father who cannot apologize to his son, a grandfather who sneaks into a church to catch a glimpse of the sweet voice of his red-headed granddaughter. Kevin keeps asking the questions, until we finally realize that the old man is neither scary nor proud, but ultimately afraid. Afraid of rejection, afraid of vulnerability, afraid that the seeds of love that grow in his heart could be killed once again.
The church is the place for people like Old Man Marley—lonely, scared people who feel very badly about themselves. But not everyone can recognize this. Those poor bandits, lovers of material goods and violence, feel so very bad about themselves and believe that God sees them the same way. Doomed to roam the streets in an old cargo van, never to enter the warm and glowing church, they are the essence of souls who have not felt their worth.
But Old Man Marley, he somehow has an insight into how Christ had come for the sick and the sad, which was why in the end he is redeemed. In the final scene of the movie, Kevin, cozy in his mansion with his shining, happy family, looks out his window to see Old Man Marley hugging his granddaughter, peace settling down like snowflakes on them all. Kevin grins his million-dollar grin and the film ends—leaving one wondering if the old man wasn’t the real protagonist, the real individual who was acutely “home alone,” but in the end found his family.
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