Look Down, then Reach Out

I watched Les Miserables last night. It’s what I do when I feel emotionally exhausted. I lie in bed watching this film that always seems to replenish me. And last night, I made a huge connection as to why.

A connection that has directly to do with Salt Lake Comic Con and Doctor Who, specifically Matt Smith. Which is probably why I made the connection, because I just bought a photo op to meet Matt Smith in SLCC’s FanXperience this March, so I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the last time he came to SLCC.

Matt Smith said a thing that permeated my heart very deeply. An eternal truth that I’ve always known, but not necessarily always felt, and in fact, have been pretty bad about acting upon. But his simple words changed my life: “Don’t ever retreat into yourself. Always reach out. You are never alone.”

And what does this have to do with Les Miserables? I will tell you.

There are two characters in Les Miserables whom your English teacher would tell you are “foils” of one another, meaning they have a lot of similar traits/opportunities but they act oppositely. I’m talking about, of course, Javert vs Jean Valjean.

Javert is a policeman. And he is really into his job. He literally has nothing else going on in his life. And because he’s so into his job, he’s come to believe that he knows everything about the law, that he is perfect at his job (he will always catch the criminal no matter how long it takes), and that he understands justice perfectly. When he needs help, he works harder, takes more upon himself. He never makes friends, he never helps others. He is the law and everything he does is for the law.

Jean Valjean is the criminal. The law dooms him to a life of misery on a tight parole. He receives an incredible gift of mercy, and breaks his parole so that he can dedicate his life to God. And from that point forward, everything he does is for God and the good of others. Let’s look through that list:

  1. Some savvy business investments to make more money from the silver gifts he was given.
  2. Using that money to run a business to employ under-privileged women.
  3. Becoming the mayor of a town and cleaning up the streets.
  4. Caring for the every day citizen (specific example: lifting the fallen cart off a man and saving his life).
  5. Admitting his true identity to save an innocent man from going to jail in his place.
  6. Taking Fantine to the hospital to be taken care of.
  7. Assuming responsibility for Cosette when Fantine dies.
  8. Generously paying the Thenardiers for Cosette even though he knows they are scamming him.
  9. Giving Cosette a comfortable, healthy life.
  10. Going to the barricade to watch over Marius.
  11. Sparing Javert’s life.
  12. Fighting his best at the barricade to protect all the young men.
  13. Saving Marius’s life.
  14. Fleeing to spare Cosette the humiliation from his true identity.

Basically, Jean Valjean is the greatest.

After receiving that first gift of mercy, he never ceases to first: reach out to God, and second: go to work in uplifting others. Even when his life and freedom are on the line, he does what he believes is right, what God would have him do, instead of saving himself or any other selfish act.

In this moment, Jean Valjean has gone as far as he can go. One more step, and he dies. And he takes the step. And instead it kills Javert, who does not understand the power of mercy.

The important thing is, in every instance where he’s faced with a fork in the road, a choice to be one thing or another, Jean Valjean turns to God for direction and help, and then he gives everything he can to people who are suffering. Whether or not you believe in God, faith and perseverance are inspiring. He has turned his life over to God in completely totality and never looked back.

Back to Matt Smith’s beautiful words: Valjean is a shining example of what happens when you don’t retreat into yourself and continually reach out, whether that’s to God or other people. The simple answer is, you do some good in the world. So instead of wallowing in the details and frustration of your circumstances when you are struggling, look down inside yourself, pull out everything you’ve got, and reach out to others. And be as kick-awesome as Jean Valjean.


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