Do you ever have those times when you feel as if life has just smacked you down? One minute you're on top of the world looking around you with joy and wonder, then, suddenly, you find you've faceplanted in the pavement. Well, I know enough people who've gone through something similar to that this in the recent past to hazard that, at one time or another, you have too - probably in the context of a relationship, although not necessarily.
Well, I recently had the pleasure of viewing the film adaptation of the stage production of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the breif but beautiful life of my favorite character, Eponine Thenardier. I promise that this relates to my beginning, but first, some back story.
Eponine was born to two horrible parents who made their living by cheating, stealing, conning, and blackmailing anyone. When she was a child, they spoiled her rotten an when she grew older, they expected her to pull her weight in the family business and she did. But unlike her parents, Eponine did not care much for the twisted life she was born into, and began to look for other interests besides gaining at the expense of others.
Then she met Marius. He was everything she wasn't. She was poor, he was wealthy. She was a street urchin, he was a student. She was jaded and wounded, he was hopeful and idealistic. She was a little nothing, and – to her at least – he was everything. There was only one problem. Marius did not feel the same way about Eponine. At best, he viewed Eponine as a good friend, but most days he barely seemed to notice her. Still, she was content just to be near him.
|Epnonine realizes that Marius love Cosette|
Then, one day, Eponine's worst nightmare became reality when Marius fell in love with a soft, innocent, beautiful, and wealthy young lady, by the name of Cosette.
Eponine was devastated. How could this be true? Marius who barely noticed any woman beyond his books and his revolutionary ideas, finally had that look that Eponine had dreamt so many times of seeing in his eyes, but it was not for her. No, it was for Cosette, a girl who Eponine knew as a child under quite different circumstances.
Marius knew nothing about Cosette, not even her name. Knowing Eponine's street smart ways, Marius turns to her to help him find Cosette. The fate of this budding romance was completely in Eponine's hands, but Marius' pleas could did fall on deaf ears and she agreed to help him find his love.
She led Marius to his love and kept watch for them both as they met in secret to express and exchange their love for one another. She went head to head with her father to protect them both. Then the revolution began and Marius and Cosette were parted, they feared forever. Epopine, unable to bear the idea of Marius fighting alone, disguised herself as a boy and joined him at the barracades.
Here the movie and the play differ.
*SPOILER ALERT *
In the play: Marius discovered Eponine's presence and commissioned her to bring a letter to Cossette. Eponine did as Marius asks, but on her way back to the barricade, she is fatally wounded.
In the film: Eponine carried a letter from Cosette, but could not bring herself to deliver it to Marius after she had joined him at the barricade. She took a bullet for Marius and as she lay dying, confessed her trangression and gave him Cosette's letter.
|Wounded, Eponine comforts Marius as she dies|
In both: As Eponine lay dying in Marius' arms, she softly tells him not to worry and assures him that his presence is enough to make her feel no pain. She comforts Marius and urges him not to fret (“A Little Fall ofRain”). Then she dies, happily near her beloved during her last moments.
Okay, so what does this have to do with life smacking you down? Well, for starters, it gives a beautiful example of how to face difficulty. When Eponine is confronted with the tragedy of her life, which shows no sign of improvement even in the most disdant future, she does not despair, nor does she wallow in her sorrow. She looks at the reality of her situation and faces it head on. She forces herself to recognize the truth that the thing she wants, will never be. She does not try to force her feelings on Marius, nor does she let her disappointment serve as a motive to stand in the way of his happiness. She is completely selfless on that front.
Now, some, might accuse Eponine of being a bit of a doormat and somewhat pathetic, but I do not agree. I believe that had she lived, she would have found joy in loving Cosette and Marius and their children and in her own time, after her heart had healed from it's disappointment, I believe that Eponine would've found her true love. But regardless of what she may have done if the chance had been given, the fact remains, that in the end, Eponine chose to think of others over herself. As a result, she dies happy and full of peace, not hanging on to resentment, broken dreams, or bitter longings.
Love is willing the good of the other. Love is not getting your way or giving someone else their way. Love is not allowing yourself to be used or to use others. Love is self-giving, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, patience, humility, hope, and so much more. Eponine chose love of another over love of herself.
Her great love, triumphs over her criminal lifestyle, her broken heart, her empty dreams, and her tragic death. When people think of the character of Eponine, then think on her with bitter-sweet recollection. She was the girl who gave all she had for an unrequited love. And because she truly loved, that was truly enough.
Epnonine had wisdom too. She had the wisdom to know that her paths was never meant to intertwine with that of Marius. She had the wisdom to know that one ought not to put the pulls of loneliness about the pulls of friendship. She had the wisdom to know that something bigger and more important that her was at work in all their lives and the author of that work would care for them all.
|The spirits of Eponine, Fantine, and Valjean watching over Cosette and Marius|
Eponine's last lines in the musical are, “And remember, the truth that once was spoken, 'To love another person is to see the face of God.'”
So, to any of my readers who are struggling with disappointment or hurt of some kind, please know this: you are not alone. You're not the only one who feels hurt, overlooked, forgotten, and/or rejected. How you respond to it is your choice. You can make yourself a victim or you can be the hero. Being the hero is difficult and probably no one will notice, but you will find peace in the sacrifice you make for the love of another. Being the victim keeps you sad, miserable, and lonely. It also burdens those who love you.
Personally, I believe that being the hero, or at least, trying to be the hero, is by far the better way. I don't know that I've ever actually succeeded on that plan, but I've always found that the simple act of trying helps me get through the confusing, painful part. I find Eponine's story incredibly inspiring and she is my favorite character in Les Mis. She is beautiful, simple, and unimportant. She is tragic. She is amazing.
Maybe one day someone will be inspired by my story or yours. So, don't give up and keep on trying to love better.