Sunday, February 11, 2018
At the Gate
One of my favorite movies of all time is King of Hearts, a 1960s film starring Alan Bates and a young Genevieve Bujold. The story takes place in a French village during WWI. The inhabitants flee the town, leaving behind the inmates of an asylum with the gate open. They filter out into the empty town and take on the roles of normal life, full of joie de vive, such that a Scottish soldier (Bates) sent into the town is unaware of the situation, with hilarious and profound results.
This brief description does no justice to this gem of a movie, but sets the stage for the final scene. After opposing armies meet and kill each other off in the town square, the inmates realize that the villagers will be returning. They quietly abandon their adventure and return to the asylum.
Finally understanding what has happened, Bates reluctantly rejoins his unit and prepares to move out. But at the very end, he returns and walks towards the asylum, shedding his uniform along the way, until he stands before the gate, stark naked, asking to be admitted.
The people we find most appealing in the movie are those who have been judged insane – the ones who seem to appreciate life, reveling in the present moment, with open hearts and flashes of deep wisdom. When confronted by the dismal reality of the life he had never up to that moment questioned, Bates, along with the viewer, is led to consider that the inmates of the asylum might understand more about the precious nature of life than those who so thoughtlessly cast it aside.
His walk towards the gate, to me, represents the process of awakening. It requires utter surrender, leaving behind everything we use to clothe ourselves – our beliefs, our judgments, our shame, our stories, our hopes, our fears. We must be willing to let it all go, layer by layer, like the uniform left strewn behind him.
Until we stand at the door naked, with nothing to offer except ourselves, asking to come in. And we will be welcomed, because we are standing at the gate of home. And as the saying goes, home is where they have to let you in.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. ~Matthew 7:7