My mother visited us this past Christmas. It’s great, I love it when she visits because she’s always so incredibly helpful at pointing out all the things that I can improve. It’s like having a permanent free life coach. You know, like one year I’m too skinny, another year I’m too fat; last year I needed to change my hairstyle, this year I need to shave. Like many, I would be totally lost without my mom’s constant advice and “constructive” criticism. Now I’m the perfect weight with flawless hair and skin, just ask my wife.
Besides her impeccable tastes, however, I love when my mom visits us because she is famous for bringing exotic gifts.
For example, a few Decembers ago, my mom brought a super useful set of items that I didn’t realize we so desperately needed. When I picked up her luggage I was taken aback and sarcastically asked, “Mom, what do you have in these bags, rocks‽” Well, I came home from work the next day to find the floor in our largest room completely covered with chestnuts. So, not rocks this time. It looked like some kind of weird Home Alone booby-trap scenario. My mom said that she was drying them out. Of course, how foolish of me to be confused. It makes perfect sense to fill an entire suitcase with 50 pounds worth of chestnuts, fly them across the country, and then lay them out to dry in your son’s sunroom.
Back to this last visit. This time…
It was rocks.
My mom brought a valise filled with rocks, ceramics, and bamboo. Because, as you know, we don’t have rocks here in Florida so it’s only natural that she would think it prudent to pack enough rocks for us to complete our interior home garden.
When I was a kid, I was sort of annoyed/embarrassed by these eccentric gifts. Shocking I know. But now: I love it. And I can hardly wait to see what she brings next.
So, thank you, mom. You’re the best, and I love you. I only hope that one day I can repay you in some small measure with equally pragmatic portmanteau products.
Also, remember children, never leave your mothers at home alone unless you want your entire living area turned into a makeshift hydroponics system.
Well, at least one of the best characters but that doesn’t make as good of a headline. Does anyone read anything online that doesn’t use extreme, absolute terms like “best,” “worst,” or “Trump?” Maybe I should title this blog post: “What Trump Really Thinks About the New Nebula-Russian Oil Hack Deal in North Korea.” Would that get more views?
Obviously, there’s a lot of great character work in Avengers Endgame. Each main hero has their shining moments. But by the end of the movie, Nebula was surprisingly the character that I found most compelling. About the only thing I could have asked is that Nebula should have been used more in the final battle. A video essayist who goes by the moniker Nando v Movies has done a fantastic job of exploring that concept so I’ll leave it him to tell you more about Nebula needing a closing confrontation with Thanos.
Nevertheless, I believe she has perhaps the most meaningful and powerful story arc of all the characters. And this is why:
Where is Nebula?
When we first meet Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy she appears to be a fairly simple villain as a henchperson of her adoptive and abusive father Thanos. She seems more machine than woman—cold, calculating, compassionless. But throughout the movies, we learn about the suffering she’s endured. Thanos would horrifically replace a part of Nebula with advanced biomachinery every time she failed in some way. All this, in his warped mind, to improve her—make her stronger, faster, better. In spite of all the trauma, Nebula, like most children, was willing to do anything to please her father, desperate for his approval. So this is where we first find Nebula, a person torn apart and reassembled, constantly reminded of how she’s not good enough.
Who is Nebula?
But: by the time Endgame rolls around we’ve seen tremendous growth from Nebula. We get to learn who she truly is. Like everyone else, she yearns for connection, belonging, and purpose; for a family. I loved all of the smaller, quieter character moments in Endgame like towards the beginning when Nebula is playing paper football with Tony Stark. As with all of Thanos’ children, we see how her life, childhood, and innocence were all stolen. She’s never really had fun. But she has grown and is growing past her past.
This newer Nebula taking shape is clearly juxtaposed in the movie against the former version of herself. Her past self, both literally and metaphorically, comes back to haunt her—tormenting her, torturing her, and even cannibalizing herself for parts. Reminding her of who she was: nobody. The two Nebula’s, old and new, struggle against each other. The stakes: her very identity.
I’ll do you one better, why is Nebula?
We see even more clearly how far Nebula has come when presented face to face with her old self. It’s like when I wake up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror: not a pretty sight, sometimes I frighten myself. The old Nebula is still a prisoner to an abusive cycle. The new Nebula, despite being captured and imprisoned by Thanos, is actually free. This is why Nebula is so great.
Her life was stolen, her body objectified, and her humanity stripped. But the whole time her limbs were being replaced, it seems, she was slowly replacing the parts of her that really matter: her heart and her soul. Through the friendships she’d make and the purpose she’d find, Nebula became far greater than Thanos’ intent. She became better—not a better machine or warrior—but a better person, eventually even a hero. An Avenger. It was the relationships she formed with others like her sister Gamora that helped bring healing and redemption.
And at the end, the endgame of Nebula’s arc, to complete her transformation, she must kill her past self (again, both figuratively and literally). Dead to the old self. Alive to the new. It’s a powerful image and an even more powerful concept. Just like an actual astronomical nebula—a beautiful, shining, colorful space cloud—Nebula becomes truly radiant. Like a gallant parade of unicorn flatulence stretching out across the vast expanse of reality after interstellar taco night.
Here’s the lesson we can learn from Nebula: we are not just our past pains or past mistakes; we are who we choose to be. Neither trauma nor failure have to define us, control us, enslave us. We can grow. We can be better. It is the voice of lies that tells us we’ll never be good enough as we are. But the truth is, who we are is breathtaking, and who we can be is even more. We need not be prisoners to the past any longer. We can become new. My, oh my, look at your fine nimbus and blush. Your light is brilliant, so shine. You too can be a massive, gorgeous unicorn fart floating among the heavens.
“…[she] is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
My wife and I were recently in the throes of potty training with our charming toddler. And like travailing the thick jungles of an uncharted rain forest, navigating the new land or Toiletdom has been interesting, to say the least. Like a good movie, it’s been full of suspense, mystery, drama, and intrigue. There have been unexpected turns, plot twists, and shocking character developments. The potty pangs are real.
But each day we kept going and did not give up, and neither did she. As we cheered on our child and celebrated each triumph the days got better and dryer. We would remind her over and over again, “You can do it!” And then, when finally the floodgates of her bladder opened up to descend into the bowl of destiny she squealed with delight, “I did it!” Her glimmering glee as she mastered the potty has been truly inspirational.
Perhaps you are enduring the refining fire of a similar forge. Do the days seem dire and the universe ungovernable? Is your patootie simply pooped in more ways than one? Are you in the midst of an inauspicious space as you seem to have had yet another accident in the underwear that is your life? Then let me take a moment to encourage you to take heart.
If you feel like life has dealt you handful of gerbil droppings, then throw them away, that’s gross. If you feel burdened and overwhelmed by all the worries of life, then don’t hold it in, that’s not healthy, just let it all out. If you’re straining with too many demands, then don’t push too hard, just wait, eat some prunes, and try again later. Does everything seem to be full of poop? If it’s brown, flush it down. Just like our toddler, you too can wave adios to your troubles, and say “Bye, bye poopie!”
You can do it. You can succeed in this next challenge of life training. You can overcome the rump scoundrels that cause mental constipation, emotional diarrhea, and spiritual incontinence. You too can proclaim from the misty mountaintops, “I did it!” Yes, yes, you did indeed.
As In Life, Such Is the Potty
Oh what ominous porcelain peak that lurks before me?
A forbidding cliff, a fearsome instrument of torture I’m sure.
Must I ascend this frosty alp, this saucy summit?
My bawdy bowels tremble.
My delicate derriere is in dread.
My keister shivers at the touch of the dead cold ceramic.
Oh hindquarters, don’t fail me now.
Take courage and sit strong!
You wayward whoopsies don’t miss the mark.
As posterior plumps on exterior of the galvanized gourd,
Please don’t slip and be sure all exits remain interior.
Behold, this throne of smelly terrors once my bane,
Now subjugated to my will is but a hollow seat.
My caboose celebrates in serendipity!
I’m a big boy now.
There was an itsy bitsy spider. Or maybe it was incy wincy? What’s the difference? Probably has to do with those Brits across the Big Pond trying to colonialize more of our culture just like with their pop star singers and BBC television series. It’s a Second Revolutionary War, but this time, they cast an English actor as Superman.
So, this itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka-dot spider wore a bikini for the first time today because she was feeling rather confident and sassy. But her poise would become a slippery slope indeed. For as she began to ascend one desirable waterspout, the most magnificent and beautiful of all gutter drains, that is when the floodgates opened up and a torrential, watery vengeance descended upon our fair heroine. Alas, she was swept away by the wave and with it her aspirations to climb the socio-economic ladder—giving new meaning to the term “trickle-down economics.”
But then! Arise the sun did, and the floods were evaporated as if nothing but a shadowy memory. Then the vertically challenged arachnid traversed and climbed up the spout again to stand triumphantly with her dignity intact and her eyes (all eight of them) gleaming in the soft glow of sun beams.
Now, one might be tempted to deconstruct this nursery rhyme as merely a more child-friendly retelling of the tragic Greek myth of Sisyphus who was condemned to an eternity of pushing a boulder up a hill just to watch it roll back down again and again. But I believe there is more optimism warranted of our eight-legged legend.
You see, in life, there will be storms. When it rains, it pours, and when you’re stuck in a drain pipe, you’re probably confused about the purpose of pipes (I’ll give you a hint: they’re not for climbing). But it’s not about avoiding the rains. It’s about what you choose to do in the midst of them, and what you choose to continue to do after them. Falling down gives us the opportunity to learn how to stand back up. And getting caught in the rain gives us the opportunity to eat lemon drops and gum drops that taste like smog and soot.
The sun will come out again.
The morals of the story:
Keeping faith that the sun will rise gives us the strength to endure and the courage to face the rains.
Next time, just take the stairs. Or at least bring an umbrella/galoshes/raincoat. No one likes wet socks.