It was a movie of fragments. Broken pieces, not neat-and-tidy characters and happily-ever-after storylines. It was a hard movie to watch, I admit. A movie that made movie-goers uncomfortable.
I loved it.
The movie? Manchester By The Sea.
It’s a story of Lee Chandler, a hard-working handyman, and his sixteen-year-old nephew, Patrick. Two young men separated by a generation and yet forced to forge a life without the single person who linked them: Lee’s brother and Patrick’s father.
You’d think that the death of brother/father would be the tension driving the plot. And I suppose it is, in part. Certainly losing a member changes the fabric of family.
And yet what makes Manchester By The Sea strangely compelling is the story barely hidden. The backstory you know you’re missing. Yes, Lee grieves the loss of his brother. But that loss threatens to shatter the wall Lee has carefully erected to restrain the greater loss that could very well engulf him:
That of losing his three small children. And ultimately his marriage. In a fire he inadvertently caused.
The purpose of this post isn’t to provide a synopsis of the movie or a detailed review. Thus I’ll spare you any further plot points. Besides, I want you to watch it. To sit, think, and connect. To step into the story and interact with the fictional characters as anything but.
Because although Lee and Patrick and their family and friends are the product of a scriptwriter’s imagination, they are also the men and women you and I encounter every day.
Men and woman who grieve unimaginable losses. Individuals who limp through life appearing detached, disinterested, maybe even rude and self-consumed. They live behind carefully crafted walls, built of both penance and bitterness, guilt and anger. Their losses have overwhelmed them, nearly taken them under and consumed them.
And yet, somehow, they’re still here.
This is the courage of Manchester By The Sea. That Hollywood would dare to show life in all its conflicting reality. Without trimming up the loose ends and softening the edges.
Manchester By The Sea shines a penetrating light on the Undone life. Those messy, unpredictable stories in which mothers leave and fathers die and children are left trying to figure out how to be sixteen without the two people who were supposed to show him the way.
In which mamas lose their babies while they sleep and communities reel with the grief.
And in which good men make ordinary mistakes and then suffer a lifetime for it.
The movie scenes move slowly, highlighting the everyday ordinariness of human existence, in spite of the complete wrecking of the characters’ life circumstance. Driving to school. Meeting with funeral directors. Eating cereal for breakfast. But it is the ordinariness of these snapshots that connect with those of us who have experienced our own wrecking. Because we, too, know how life callously moves forward, determined and indifferent, in spite of our white-knuckled attempts to get it to slow, stop, or turn back so we can rewrite a different end.
It will not surprise you that my tears flowed. And when Manchester By The Sea drew to a close, I ached for a happy ending, longed for a resolution that would make us feel better, maybe even happy somehow.
I did not get it. Instead, I got something better.
Lee sits at a table with his Patrick. They both know Patrick needs a new guardian, someone to step up and fill the parental void. We want them both to bounce back, to somehow find all their needs met in each other. Instead, Lee speaks what many of us have experienced to be true:
“I can’t beat this. I can’t beat it. I’m sorry.”
This isn’t an admission of defeat, nor is it a concession to a lifetime of victimization. Instead, I believe Lee’s words are an honest admission of brokenness. A willingness to say, without pretense or bravado, I’m not the same person I was before. And I’ll never be that person again.
You see, choosing to live broken is a courage all of its own. It’s determining to wake up every morning when sleeping would be easier. It’s putting a right foot and a left foot into a right and left shoe, and walking out the front door to do what needs be done. It’s finding the will to refuse death, again and again, even when the resulting life feels like a sort of death of its own.
And it’s choosing to be honest with the people who want the truth far more than a front of strength.
There are some losses that are never healed on this side of heaven. There is some grief that never really goes away. Even so, perhaps it is in our honest admission that we discover sacred community, the ability to sit with someone else in their own pain. As when 16-year-old Patrick finally lowers his adolescent aloofness long enough to weep over his father’s death:
“I think something’s wrong with me…” Patrick sobs, uncontrollably. Something we hadn’t before seen him do.
Lee, concerned at his nephew’s tears, moves awkwardly. Still, in spite of the threat to his own grief, he doesn’t pull away. Instead, he pulls up a chair.
“Okay, I’m not gonna bother you. I’m just gonna sit here until you calm down.”
Patrick avoids eye contact, tries to appear tougher than he is. “Alright, I’m calm now. Will you leave me alone?”
And thus, with one defiant word, the handyman who can fix anything but his own heart finds the courage to live broken. He enters into his nephew’s fragmented and unfinished story with the shards of his own, sharing grief’s space so, together, they can find a way to live.
May you and I have the courage to do the same.
[reminder]In my book I Am: A 60-day Journey To Knowing Who You Are Because of Who He Is, there’s a chapter called ‘I Am Broken.’ In it, I said the following: ‘Where you are fragile, [God] can make you strong. Where you are wounded, [God] can make you whole. Entrust your pieces to His perfect hands, and watch His healing work begin.’ What pieces do you you need to pass on to your Healer? [/reminder]