On June 5, 1832, French writer Victor Hugo was sitting in a park crafting another masterpiece. Startled by the sounds of exploding cannons and screaming men, he dropped his pen and, instead of running for the safety of home, dashed toward the sound of the guns. He made his way up the narrow and winding streets of Paris and suddenly was amid barricades and flying bullets. He had stumbled upon the June Rebellion.
The insurrection was a fight between the Republicans/students and the Monarchists/government. The students fighting for the rights of the people faced insurmountable odds and literally threw themselves on the bayonets of the oppressors.
Les Miserables.” I’ve read the book many times; I’ve dog-eared and underlined the pages and wrote volumes in the margins. I saw the musical on Broadway and the movie on Christmas day. It’s a story about love, innocence, forgiveness, sacrifice, death, social justice, religion, grace, politics and moral philosophy.
I went to see the movie with my girls and this time I got a different take on the story. It was an epiphany. Just in case you’re looking for a good New Year’s resolution, I’ve got one for you. It’s straight from the story.
In Volume 1 we find a message. The protagonist, Jean Valjean, is released from prison after serving 19 years for stealing bread to feed his sister’s children. As a convict, he is ostracized by society but is given a warm bed and a meal by Bishop Myriel. During the night, Valjean steals the bishop’s silver, is caught by the police and brought to the bishop to face his crime. The bishop tells the police that he had given the silver to Valjean as a gift, that Valjean had done nothing wrong.
From the darkened bowls of a depraved life, Valjean was given redemption. Darkness served its purpose, showing us that there is redemption in turmoil. Isn’t that the basis of all Greek mythology?
The moral of the story may not be that obvious since “Les Miserables” is a real mind game. There are many crevices, bends and directions to the story. But let me decipher the message. Forgiveness, a second chance, and a commitment to change one’s life are the hooks to Volume 1. It’s a universal theme and is expressed in a complex story. It’s the perfect New Year’s resolution. Pass on the love! It’s as simple as that.
Let me go a little deeper into the story. Valjean finds redemption and seeks restitution. He becomes a man of altruism. He spends the rest of his life building his own moral philosophy. He becomes the true hero.
I don’t mean to preach. I can hardly walk into a church without feeling that I’m going to be struck by lightning. However, when someone renders you a kindness, my hope is that you’ll pass on the love. Take that kindness and give it to another.
Let me leave you with a quote from “Les Miserables.” It adds credence to the New Year’s resolution that I encourage you to make:
“There is a determined though unseen bravery that defends itself foot by foot in the darkness against the fatal invasions of necessity and dishonesty. Noble and mysterious triumphs that no eye sees, and no fame rewards, and no flourish of triumph salutes. Life, misfortunes, isolation, abandonment, poverty, are battlefields that have their heroes; obscure heroes, sometimes greater than the illustrious heroes.”
Victor Hugo was brilliant. He found the answer to the maddening inertia of life by following the sound of the guns during the June Rebellion of 1832.
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his website at doctorjoe.us.