Joseph Anderson

Galaxy Quest: we are all heroes

Yesterday I went to the beach at Carkeek Park early to chant and drum as part of the water chanting project. I sat with a friend on a log on the beach, at the mouth of Piper Creek. The tide was very high, and the creek was very full, and it was raining pretty hard. Crouched under umbrellas, we rattled and drummed and chanted, asking for blessing from the waters and offering our blessings to the waters, and making our prayers asking from the spirits of the place for help with life in the middle world. We had a fine time, and I look forward to more sessions like this very soon.

Apart from launching this sacred water project – which just feels natural and fun and easy – this has been a season of breathing in. There is of course absorbing the lessons of the election, and feeling my way (as so many others are doing) to a way of being that will keep me balanced and in harmony as these changes unfold. But I’m also doing a lot of new reading and research related to Soul Cartography (I wrote about that here).  I have assembled quite a pile of books related to maps and charts and diagrams of all kinds (the blog Brain Pickings has been an incredible source for this sort of material): books on the history of cartography, and timelines, and creative approaches to mapmaking. I continue to read Jungian psychology to great benefit. All that is helping me to ground and deepen and gain insight into what it means to render our experience of life in the two-dimensional space of a drawing, and how that exercise can be helpful to bring clarity and coherence to the buzz of seemingly random stuff that happens.

Musings related to the class are bleeding into my entertainment time, where it’s not so much the maps of our lives but the stories of our lives that resonate. Recently I wrote about the TV series Once Upon a Time, and last night I stumbled across a film from the late 90’s, Galaxy Quest. The film made me think about how we construct narratives for ourselves, and the almost magical ways these constructed narratives can bring a greater sense of meaning, power, and worth to our lives.

The film is about a group of has-been stars of a once-popular, Star-Trek-like sci-fi show with an enthusiastic cult following, stuck in (and resenting) their identities as captain or science officer or engineer, reduced to gigs at fan conventions and store openings. They are all too aware of the discrepancy between the heroic roles they once portrayed and who they really are (or think they are) inside. The adulation of their nerdy fans just makes it that much worse. 

Things change when (“things change when” is always the key moment in a film script!) they encounter a group of genuine aliens looking for their help. This far-away civilization has been watching the show themselves from deep space, taking it for history rather than fiction, and have modeled their society – and their space ships – on the show. 

As the washed-up cast members are transported to this distant world and find themselves thrust into genuinely dangerous situations based on plots they acted years ago, we see them gradually discovering genuine courage and ability they didn’t know they possessed. We see them overcome their inner obstacles: aided by the expectations of their alien friends, their forgotten sense of connection with each other, and the unexpected support of a group of geeky Earth-side fans.

The film is presented in a comic spirit that really worked for me; it’s very funny. But there was an undertone of meaning that leads me to write about it today. To me one of the true beauties of the spiritual path is that it calls us to live larger than we think we can. Living a spiritual path connects us to mythic realities (whether those realities come from within a religious tradition or are creatively developed from inner guidance). Through the promptings of spirit we are all encouraged to walk on the earth as heroes, even in the midst of our ordinary-seeming circumstances. These teachings remind us that we are capable of great love, great sacrifice, and great courage. However modestly we view our role, and however phony we may feel inside – when we live our lives with intention and a sense of purpose, that larger self is called into expression.

The illusion (perpetrated by social norms for many reasons, and fed by our fears) is that our lives are of no consequence, that we are ordinary, that our sense of personal grandeur is a lie. But think about it: the real texture of our lives, with their high-stakes commitments, genuine dangers, genuine triumphs, losses piled upon losses, boundless opportunity for hope and despair, is heroic in its essence. And if we allow ourselves to truly witness that, and truly experience it, then we deserve to see ourselves as heroes. Galaxy Quest, like any other film – like any other story – seems to show us a larger-than-life context (outer space! the wild west! the enchanted forest!) within which heroism becomes obvious and necessary. But what these stories really show us is that heroism is always a choice for us, in the midst of our lives just as they are.

One of my favorite moments in the film involves Dr. Lazarus, the Spock-like character played by an unsuccessful Shakespearean actor, Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman). Dane is the moodiest and most depressed of the actors, and hates it particularly when his fans beg him to recite his catchphrase from the show.  The phrase represents to him everything that is phony and overblown and lowbrow about the show and its world, and it rubs salt in his wounds every time a bedazzled fan begs him to say it. And yet at a climactic moment of the film, when he experiences the tragic loss of a noble alien friend, there is a moment of transcendent clarity, and the lie he thinks he has been living suddenly turns gloriously true. That Dr. Lazarus catchphrase that he has hated suddenly becomes purpose in his mouth, a liberating focus of will and intent: “By Grabthar’s hammer, by the suns of Warvan, you shall be avenged!”

It makes me wonder how we, like Dr. Lazarus, might experience such a transformation in the disappointing parts of our lives, choices we have made – as we have all made – that have felt like failure and compromise. What if it’s all happened to make us into the people we need to be, right now? What if the only question right now is whether or not we are willing to step forward just as we are into our own heroic destiny?

By Grabthar’s hammer…let’s find that heroism and live into it!