Every year I relish the seventeen times Love, Actually is on television. Indeed, I enjoy it so much I finally just bought the DVD. Love, Actually is a British “Christmas” movie with some of the greatest stars: Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Kiera Knightly, Martin Freeman and for all you Walking Dead fans, Andrew Lincoln. There are a few others you’ve seen before, but have no clue what their name is. The storyline follows eight very different couples the month before Christmas. But they aren’t all “couples”. Liam Neeson and his stepson are one said “couple”, while the beautiful Laura Linney plays the sister who gives up any chance of a love life to be there for her brother. As for love, the opening narration (done by Hugh Grant) sums it up.
“Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge–they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love, actually, is all around.”
We put such a narrow meaning on the word “love” that we forget it IS everywhere. It’s present in everyday exhibitions of caring and sacrifice just as much as in the messy, hot passion of a love affair. Sometimes it manifests itself by simply making your children a paper mache lobster costume for the Christmas pageant.
Like all incredible stories, I’m able to take away a new outlook with every viewing. Whether it’s something as superficial as recognizing one of the stars for a new role they’ve done or just realizing how funny certain lines are, I never watch the same thing twice. I am able to relate to one of the stories and see how my life, my love, is being reflected in myself. This year was no different. But for the first time, I related to Laura Linney’s role as caregiver. Her character spoke volumes to me and I love her for it. I respect her for it. I respect myself a little more. Her character, Sarah, is very much in love (lust?) with Carl, a handsome guy at work. However, Sarah is constantly tied to her mobile phone, the connection she has to her disturbed brother who lives in a home. He always comes first. His call brings her back to reality, back to the harsh responsibilities of a real life caregiver. When finally given the opportunity to be with Carl, she has to make the heart wrenching decision to push him away in order to fulfill her duty to her brother. It’s not your average, feel good story about love. It’s the story of sacrifice and love for family, yes, but it’s also a bit eye opening as well. I wondered why she pushed Carl away. She could have let the phone ring and her brother would have been okay. He was surrounded by people taking care of him. He was safe. But when she reached for the phone instead of being present with Carl, she was reaching for a crutch as well. She was choosing the safety of the known (her role as caregiver) over the unknown (was she good enough to be loved?). At first I thought it was because of her overriding sense of family that made her give up the chance she’d pinned away for. But when she said, “I don’t deserve him” it made more sense. The story changed from the love of sister-brother to the love of one’s self.
There’s something about being in love, or loving, that creates a fine line between confidence and the fear of inadequacy. Perhaps it’s normal to have fears and doubts when faced with the one person you believe makes the world go around. When you look at them and think, “wow, they’re amazing!”, perhaps it’s more normal than not to question your own worth. It’s only when you love yourself enough, have enough self confidence and acceptance of your own worth that you are able to truly love another. All obstacles will fall away and make room for it, if you’re ready. Suddenly, I saw the theme in all the couples. Confidence and trust within themselves was the only way to truly find love. Once they found that, they found everything. So simple. And it’s been there all along. Man, I love good movies (and books) just for this reason!
So this year I may have continued to swoon over the love of Colin Firth (because, well, he’s Colin Firth) but I paid a bit more attention to the real love stories as well. The love of the self. Even Colin needed to overcome his own demons and try again at that frightening prospect. He had to realize he was worth it. I saw how each character struggled with their own insecurities and failures. Some winning, some losing. Because actually, love can only start with the self.