The two ladies behind us in the theater were obnoxious. One kept inadvertently kicking the back of my seat. Both were loud talkers. My wife and I heard about almost all of their issues from a dog that kept pooping in the house to what they had bought their kids for Christmas. There was no volume control at all no matter the topic.
One said to the other, “I told Margret that I was going to go see Les Miserables and she wrinkled her nose up at me and told me that musicals suck. It’s just a bunch of singing with Gladiator chasing Wolverine around who has fallen in love with Catwoman.” The other lady said, “Of course we are going to see it! Some people don’t have any freaking culture.” Put that last sentence on a T-shirt and you’ll have a bestseller.
They guffawed at each comedic movie trailer, gave a running commentary on whether they would see it or not, shifted in their seats, and kicked the back of my chair. My frustration mounted. We had driven to the town north of our city to see this much-anticipated film. All theaters in our city were sold out. Soon the place filled up. There were no other seats. We were stuck right where we were. My wife kept tapping my leg to calm me down.
As the film played out before us with each quiet and pensive moment, my chair was nudged or I could hear some comment about the performance from the ladies behind me. I was not just irritated, I was miserable. And no matter how loud the film score or moving the actors’ performance, I couldn’t get past the seeming disregard of personal space from the ladies behind me. It was as if we were in their living room watching a private screening just for them.
I began to anticipate the next boisterous laugh, ill-timed comment, or kick of my seat. I found that, far from immersing myself in this story of grace, I was imagining ways to torture the movie gremlins seated behind me. I could hear them crunching their salty, buttery popcorn, slurping their sodas and sliding their straws through the lids of their super-sized drinks.
I turned my head and looked at them and shot them my best stink-eye, a look that has wilted and withered grown men. Alas, they were engrossed in the film and my evil-eye was lost in the dark. What do I do? Do I say something to them? Do I block them from my mind? How can my wife not notice these demon movie monsters just inches from her ears? What, is she deaf in her hearing?
There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong
Suddenly, the demons were gone. No more kicks to the back of my chair. No more crass comments were heard nor ill-timed and loud laughter. I was no longer in the theater. I was transported to Paris and Fantine was singing to me. Then Jean Valjean was giving voice to my longing for love. Then he was praying my prayers for my sons and I was caught up in the story of the triumph of mercy over law and pharisaism. I marveled at beauty juxtaposed with degradation, filled with wonder and the triumph of grace.
When my wife is moved with either fear or other deep emotions during a movie, she gradually tightens her grip on my arm. Sometimes it hurts. When Jean Valjean sang his final prayer for his daughter and her fiancé, my arm was gripped most tightly when the lyrics, “To love another person is to see the face of God…” were sung. The story of love and grace eclipses all things.
And I wept.
What have I done, sweet Jesus, what have I done?
Become a thief in the night, become a dog on the run?
…Is there another way to go?
Yes, the ladies were still behind me, but I was no longer there. I was immersed in a story of redemption. I’m not sure I went willingly to this place of forgetfulness, but I went nonetheless. I think it would be good for me to go there more often.
And if the Gospel is what it claims to be, I don’t have to pay for a movie ticket and drive to Marysville to discover that the gremlins of my world disappear in the light of His glory and grace.
On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross.