I’m no religious expert so I’m not endorsing any kind of official interpretation here. I’m just saying that when I think of the Towers of Babylon, a biblical story, I think of the heights to which a man can aspire and how we attempt to rival the very universe itself in our arrogance, at times. I believe that’s what the story was about. I also think of a giant House of Cards, tall and impressive and infinitely fragile. This is what a human is; a combination of potential and actuality. Each year of school or “training” in a skill puts bricks on that tower; puts cards on that stack. This is part of why it seems so much “more tragic” to be near the death of an intelligent honor student or a trained warrior or a promising athlete: all that time invested makes for a taller tower to knock down. The more cards you’ve put on a card house, the more disappointed you are when you fail at that second-to-last level and knock the whole damn thing down.
Was that profound enough for you? A delicious combination of abstract and overly-dramatic, I’ve probably managed to put you in a sullen mood. Allow me to change gears and come back to this later.
I watched Lilo & Stitch with the family two nights ago. I had never seen it before and I know now that it’s a lovely movie that holds nothing sacred until all of a sudden, somewhere near the end, it puts family on a pedestal and exemplifies the value of even a small and broken unit as a place where somebody belongs. A place you can call home.
Stitch is an alien programmed to destroy things but he lands on a small island of Hawaii and, left with no large cities to destroy, is forced to make a life with Lilo, a young Hawaiian girl being raised by her over-stressed sister. With a destructive purpose and nothing to destroy, Stitch is a perfect symbol for humans who feel we have no purpose and are thrust into this world anyway, struggling to find a meaning, or a reason (or simply make one up if we can’t). Simple life alongside Lilo and her sister shows Stitch that he can find things to want, he can find a desire to create and to love and he can overcome his “nature.”
An important part of the story that struck me a day or so after watching it is the reason behind Stitch’s exile in the first place. He was created by a mad scientist who was found out by the galactic government for his genetic experiments. They exile Stitch because he cannot prove he has even a modicum of responsibility or potential in his head (other than destruction). They gave him a chance to prove himself reconcilable and he used it to speak profanities at them.
In short, he showed them that he was no Tower. He wasn’t going to build anything. He had no potential value to them. In fact, he had negative value. Not only would he build no towers; he made it perfectly clear that he would most likely spend his time knocking other people’s towers over.
To add to this, let me tell you about a fantastic European fairy tale that gets less attention than but is equally as moving as Romeo & Juliet. I know of this story because it has my namesake: it’s called Tristan and Iseult. You may know of it as a James Franco movie. Forget that you know about that movie and go look for the book version, preferably the one by Rosemary Sutcliffe (there are a ton of different versions of it). I’ll assume that my endorsement is enough and that you’re going to read the book so I won’t spoil the whole story but I will tell you that in it, the hero and heroine are mostly perfect in every way; two veritable Towers of human existence. They make an excellent contrast to Lilo, the angry near-orphan and Stitch, the destructive, lost alien, don’t you think?
So, after watching Lilo & Stitch I found myself re-reading some of Tristan & Iseult and I was struck by the fact that Tristan finds friendship and aid wherever he goes for a handful of reasons, not the smallest of which is his skill on the harp. He arrives in Ireland wounded and near death, stinking of a rotten wound on his leg, and every stranger that he meets hears his harp-playing and what do you think they do? They put almost all of the resources at their command towards getting him to Princess Iseult, the fairest healer in all the land. It struck me, then: in a modern world where almost all of our movies and TV shows are about how strangers do NOT help each other, why do these strangers do everything they can to help Tristan at every turn? Why does the entire world fall at his feet when he has problems?
Because he can prove that he is a Tower right when you meet him. He is a spectacle to behold, fair and long of limb, but beyond that, your very ears are pleased at his coming before you can even see him; he is forever playing his harp as beautifully as the angels. In short, he is worth saving.
Like a perfect conch shell that you pick up after passing a thousand broken bits of coral, Tristan is noteworthy. He is a Tower with bricks stacked upon each other until they reach the sky; one layer of brick for his skill in archery, one for his musical abilities, one for his manners, one each for the many languages he speaks.
The point is that people value other people in much the same way that we value anything. We objectify things. You’ve heard this word before, objectify, it’s usually slapped before the word women when somebody’s trying to discredit a man’s system of values. In truth, we all objectify everything, at least to some extent.
So the galactic government objectified Stitch because he had no evident value. They gave him a chance to show them that he could have some potential value and he blew that, too. He was tossed to Hawaii where he found a family that was headed by a sister with no evident value, either. The “social worker” that comes to check on them makes it clear that the only value the state sees in the house is the potential value of little Lilo. While her older sister is already an adult, and no Tower at that, Lilo may still grow into something noteworthy. She is like a seed of a human. Until she has shown that she has no evident value, there’s all that potential sitting there.
But if you watch the whole movie, you’ll see the truth. There’s a home there, for all of them. There’s a family. “Ohana means family” is a beautiful line from the movie because “family means nobody gets left behind…or forgotten.”
You may wonder where I’m going with any of this. To be honest, at first, I was sort of wondering the same thing, but I see my own point now. It is that strangers will objectify you, but family won’t. Family doesn’t always mean your parents and your siblings. Family are those people that will never knock your tower down, even if it’s only a squat two-story thing with rickety windows and a leaky roof. Family will never abandon you because you’re tower’s not tall enough, either. Family doesn’t see a success or a failure, family just sees home; a place to belong.
Everybody deserves some unconditional love, even those of us that have made horrid mistakes. I used to think that it was wrong to stick up for people you love when you know that they’re wrong. I see now that everybody needs somebody to love them, no matter how wrong or broken or small they are. I sure could have used a little more support in my “wronger” days. A tall tower might get you the applause of strangers and the assistance of the masses, but when your tower starts to sag or it loses a few stories, all that will fall by the wayside. A tall tower gets you praise, but it doesn’t get you love (just ask Tristan). A strong foundation is what holds up a tall tower, so make sure you start at the bottom and look for those around you that are most important so you can help fortify their foundations, too.