We watched a wonderful Indie movie the other night, Islander. In the movie, a young man, Eban Crane, make a rash decision which results in a boy’s death and five years in prison. When he returns to the island to win back his wife, who is living with another man, and daughter, Sara, he finds that the small island community regards him as a pariah. He doggedly persists in reclaiming his life as a fisherman and father with the help of a veteran fisherman, Popper. We watch as he learns that his own father, now dead, turned against him. Popper tells a story about how his father, once Popper’s best friend, needed to be the dominate fisherman on the island, even to the point of trespassing on Popper’s territory. When Eban asks what Popper did, he replies that he simply took his traps and moved. Eban asks how he could do that, and Popper replies that it wasn’t worth getting into a fight, and that he and his wife had lived a quiet, happy life. “You earn your peace by the sacrifices you make,” he says,”and not anything less.”
That line struck me, and I found myself thinking about it all the next day.” Sacrifice” comes from the Latin, “to perform sacred rites.” The dictionary definition is the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable forthe sake of something considered as having a higher or morepressing claim. In the context of the movie, a man had given up dominance and wealth in order to have a peaceful life. When I was growing up, we were admonished to make sacrifices for Lent and to give our irritations and griefs up to God, as a way to give them purpose. By forgoing candy, the idea was we would put God before our bellies, and by consciously giving our sorrows to God we were transforming them. As I’ve grown older, the stakes have grown higher, and it seems that I can be dragged kicking and screaming through suffering, or I can understand that loss can be made sacred by the choice of how to bear it. In our story, Popper could have lived a life of resentment or contention. He may have seemed unnecessarily meek to some. But he made a choice that peace and friendship trumped dominance. Sacrifice implies the idea of conscious choice, of intention. Eban has a choices to make. Nothing can undo the past or the losses he’d endured, but by accepting that and refusing to operate out of a place of victimhood, he can become the father he wishes to be. In the movie, Eben grows from a reactive, angry young man to a more vulnerable man, capable of love.
We tend to think of “sacrifice” as something unpleasant and negative, an atavistic trait of superstitious people. Yet I wonder if the opposite is true.