The Next Right Thing
During this pandemic lockdown, Frozen II has been on in our house on repeat. I mean actual repeat – my kids watch it all the way through every two days and in between are listening to the music and repeating back the entire script verbatim (a feat both astounding and hilarious). But honestly, I don’t mind. In fact, I’ve been doing my best to get everyone I know to watch it. And not just because I love all things snow and the music is wonderful. I make people watch it because I honestly feel like it’s the first movie I’ve ever seen that demonstrates what truth and reconciliation looks like in an accessible way. It’s something I can point to when I try to explain to my children why we need to care about what is happening to Indigenous peoples, around the world and here at home, and what we need to be willing to sacrifice in the name of justice.
For those of you who haven’t seen the movie and don’t want it spoiled, I recommend stopping now and coming back once you’ve seen it. For everyone else, here’s a quick synopsis:
At the heart of Frozen II is the story about the Indigenous people who live in the Enchanted Forest north of Arendelle, the Northuldra. Like many Indigenous communities, we learn that they long lived in harmony with the world around them, and that they welcomed the people from the south when they came, promising friendship and increased prosperity. The Arendellians build a dam as a symbol of that promise, but as has so often been the case, that promise turns out to be a pretense to gain power. When the two communities gather to celebrate the completion of the dam, the leader of the Northuldra tells the King of Arendelle that it has harmed their waters and weakened their connection to the land. The King, who has already made it clear to his general that the goal of this alliance is to ensure that the Northuldra would never think they could defy him, kills their leader. The ensuing battle results in the death of the King and the shrouding of the Forest in a magical and impenetrable mist, brought forth by the spirits of nature who guard to forest and are enraged by the King’s act of violence. Many years later, those spirits are awoken by Elsa, who sets off to liberate the forest and restore justice. She discovers her grandfather’s treachery and that truth is what eventually compels Anna to break the dam, knowing that it will destroy Arendelle (though its inhabitants are safely out of the city).
When I first saw the movie, I was absolutely unprepared for a story about reconciliation. The first Frozen movie certainly gives no inkling that things could go in that direction, and nothing Disney had done up until that point made me think it was even a remote possibility. Heck, they turned Pocahontas into a Disney princess and created a love story out of a narrative of exploitation. And even though they have clearly been trying lately, my expectations of Disney in terms of social consciousness have always been pretty low. So I was honestly shocked.
The idea that they intentionally created a story where one of the main characters had to be willing to actively destroy her whole world, the city that she loved and the place that she called home, just because it was the right thing to do, blew my mind. The fact that they put such an emphasis on the role that discovering the truth had on that decision was also incredible – because even though we know that truth must precede reconciliation, to have it placed into the narrative so clearly was impressive to me.
So that’s what today’s reflection is about – Truth. Today’s snowflake is one of my favourites – al-Haqq. In fact it was the first calligraphy snowflake I ever drew. The idea that Allah is the Truth, and is the ultimate source of Truth, has always been deeply significant to me. Al-Haqq is the name of Allah I turn to most often in my moments of spiritual search, the ideal that I most strive for in my spiritual life.
And that spiritual search has always influenced the rest of my life. As an academic, an activist, and a psychotherapist, I am deeply invested in uncovering truth, in making space for others to tell their truth, and holding space so that we can all bear witness to that truth. Truth is such a powerful force, and one that I think we are losing track of in these days of fake news and false paragons. Learning, witnessing, and sharing truths has been at the heart of my work for as long as I’ve been doing it. It’s why I’m a feminist. It’s why I believe in intersectionality. It’s why I believe that faith can be an important source of healing.
But the most life-changing truth for me has been learning about the history and treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Hearing even small slivers of their truths has been so deeply transformative that it has made me question everything I think I know about this country that I still love, but that I also now have a deeply complicated relationship with. And that is a good thing; an important thing; a necessary thing. And because I am at a particular place in my journey of learning and internalizing these truths, Frozen II hit me hard. I cried a lot. I still cry every time I watch it (which, as I noted above, is quite a bit).
What Anna realizes is that sometimes, the grief is too big and the problems seem insurmountable. But even though it all seems unmanageable, the truth remains the same, so all we can do is the next right thing. Sometimes, that thing is something big and life-changing, something that requires us to sacrifice all we know and hold dear. Sometimes, to move forward, we have to make right the wrongs of the past, even if it means starting anew. Sometimes you have to tear down walls that have stood for generations, because the ground they were built on is unsound. Did you know there might be Indigenous bones in the mortar used to build the Canadian Parliament? Truth can be a terrible thing.
And sometimes, the next right thing is smaller and quieter. It is a blog post, the evening after the Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. It is teaching your child the real story of Pocahontas, perhaps the first of those missing and murdered girls. It is putting Indigenous art, bought from Indigenous stores, on the walls of your office to remind yourself of truths both terrible and beautiful. It is learning the things that make you unlearn what you thought you knew. It is working toward justice, every day, in whatever way you can. It is finding pathways to reconciliation. It is doing the next right thing, and then the next, and then the next. Because as the Talmud reminds us, each of us must do our small part:
"Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”