My family has been going through the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” series for family night. It’s been really fun, but more than that–it’s been very enlightening. And I’m not talking eastern mysticism. I mean truth. We recently finished the series, and this article is about a specific scene on the very last disc, so–I’ll only say this once–SPOILER ALERT!!!
Zuko was an amazing character. He was really childish at first. I didn’t like him–he didn’t even look cool with that ridiculous ponytail making his scar stick out like a sore thumb. But as the series went on, I grew to appreciate his pain and struggle, because it was relatable. He was meant to represent the very essence of the struggle between light and darkness, between good and evil. And, honestly, I think the writer(s) did a pretty good job with that. There’s not always an easy answer or a clear path. And we all have scars from past wounds. Usually from someone with our last name….The madness and mental instability, the pain and struggle–that’s relateable. Now, this story was made for children, so we can scream out the obvious right answer from the sidelines (like he can really hear us) and think of him as an idiot for choosing darkness–AGAIN. But, when we take a look at our own lives, when it is us on stage with everyone else on the sidelines, we realize that it’s not so easy to see the big picture. All we can see is what’s right in front of us. Everything else gets lost in the moment. We choose the dark far more often than Zuko, honestly. We are far more dual than we care to admit….
I have acted in plays before. I can tell you that there’s this funny feeling I get when I’m up on stage. It’s like my mind goes completely blank, and it’s only because I’ve carved my lines into my mind that I can remember them at all. Everything feels kinda hazy–like I’m doing everything on-the-fly. No practice, no prep, it’s all me in my bare nakedness, just winging it and hoping I don’t ruin everything. I can sit back and laugh at that now, because I’m not standing on a stage. Or, rather, because I don’t see the stage I’m standing on. Yet aren’t I doing the same exact thing every day of my life? I’m just flailing around, trying to get my lines right, messing things up A LOT, and just hoping that, in the end, it’ll all come together and touch the audience somehow. The world is my stage, and I’m a character in this play whether I want to be or not. If you watched my life, you could sit back and yell at me from the sidelines about what an idiotic decision I’m making and how it’s so obvious I should be doing something else (and, believe me, you’d be doing that a lot), but, like Zuko, I get lost in it all and I’m just trying to make it, struggling between the darkness and the light, never really understanding which one is going to satisfy me, even though the answer is obvious. In the end, though, like Zuko, I choose the light. But not before a lot of scars are made and a lot of people are hurt….
Despite Zuko’s folly, I grew to love him as a character. Sure, he WAS pretty childish, but remember he was still basically a child. He was terribly sorry for all he had done, but there was nothing he could do to make it right. His suffering would not make it right. Good works would not make it right. Correct philosophy could not fix the damage. What does one do when they kneel before the one they’ve hurt and there is nothing–NOTHING–they can do to fix it?
The answer is only that mercy is necessary. Because vengeance, violence, suffering–these things will not heal. They will only worsen the pain. So, the answer is obvious. You are at the victim’s mercy. Literally. You must be at their mercy. They have to let go of the past and grow something new in its place….
And that moment, when Zuko knelt before his uncle, tears streaming down his face, begging Iroh to forgive him for all his foolishness–that moment as Iroh clutched Zuko tightly in his arms, tears streaming down his own face–that moment when Zuko was unworthy but found grace–it struck a chord with me. It resonated with my own heart. Because, there I was, kneeling before the One I had betrayed, the One who had loved me, cherished me, grown me, cared for me–I was kneeling before the One whom I had hurt the most, tears streaming down my face, begging for forgiveness–and I found grace. I could have wept. The moment was moving for me. It touched me deeply. This was no children’s tale. It is the story of every prodigal son who ever knelt before their Father figure and found grace. Countless lives, innumerable souls, all finding the same grace He extends freely to everyone who will take it. Because, like Uncle Iroh with Zuko, God loves us deeply and only wants what is best for us. He sits there by our side while we drive around madly on a wild goose chase, going a 100 miles an hour in the wrong direction, and He sighs, trying to steer us the other way. But we don’t listen. He stays with us as, time after time, we fail in our endeavors to bring satisfaction to our souls and honour to our name, and He tries to tell us the answer. But we don’t listen. He leaves us in silence as we fume and rage, trying to find our own way. He weeps with our weeping, rejoices for our small gains, and ever watches, heavily, as we choose darkness over and over again, betraying Him with our every step….And, after we have run our last mile, worn out all our efforts, and come to our wits’ end, He whispers to us softly the hard truth. It is then that the paths diverge….
Some of us, as Zuko did, will ultimately choose the light, and will come weeping before Him with all our shattered pieces, expecting all the well-deserved wrath to be poured out on us. But, instead, He wraps us up in His arms, weeping for our ultimate return to Him, cherishing our very being, though we’ve hurt Him more than we’ve hurt anyone else. He gives grace, and, ultimately, He will let us rule with Him in a new kingdom of prosperity and peace and love….
Yet others will be Azula, choosing the maddening darkness until their very last breath, and meeting the ultimate ruin of their own selves, because they would not heed the light. For all my lack of care for Azula throughout the series, in that last moment, when she is wailing and squalling like a small child, trapped and helpless, at her literal wits’ end, I had nothing but pity for her. I wanted to help her, but there was nothing left to help….
As for the Fire Lord, well….We know his end. His power will ultimately be taken away, to do no more harm to anyone ever again….
For now, I’m still on the stage. I’m still flailing and wandering. I’m still being clutched in my adoptive Father’s arms, still weeping because the pain is yet too near, the struggle yet too real. I am still often betraying Him, yet I find a neverending supply of grace. He has every right to be angry–to eliminate me–but He chooses to love and forgive me instead. And that brings healing. That brings redemption. Because of that, I am being made new. And this, my friend, is the greatest redemption story ever. 🙂
***DISCLAIMER: Images used in this article are not mine! They are strictly the porperty of their original poster….***