I watched Tokyo Godfathers for the first time recently, and, in addition to inspiring the ink drawing above, the thing brought me to the point of tears. The third movie directed by the late Satoshi Kon, it tells the story of three homeless people who find an abandoned baby girl on Christmas Eve and embark on an adventure to find her parents. It’s a mixture of pathos and comedy, as Dickensian circumstances propel the trio through a series of bizarre and poignant episodes.
The quest to reunite the baby with her parents is the spark that ignites an exploration of how the characters are all in their own way dealing with (or not dealing with) family trauma and their need for family. They’re all broken people who realize, through their brokenness, the need for forgiveness: both to forgive and to be forgiven.
And that’s where things hit home with me, where I saw a lot of myself and my loved ones in the characters. I’ve never known the cruel oppression of poverty and homelessness, but I know what it’s like to have your family tear itself apart, to watch loved ones seemingly throw themselves into self-destruction, to feel like your life’s a mess, that you’re a freak who doesn’t belong, and that things are never going to improve.
When you hit that sort of despondency, you have to realize that forgiveness is the only way you can live sanely and regain your hope.
Now, the family is in some mysterious fashion a dim metaphor for God, and as sons and daughters of God we’ve done a pretty good job of burning bridges with this family. All our individual struggles with alienation and suffering are ultimately symptoms of this great alienation. All our searching for healing is a dim grasping at God. Christmas is God taking the initiative in forgiveness, in coming down to meet us where we are. That is the feast’s joyous tidings.
None of this is easy. The inn was full on the first Christmas (Luke 2:6-7). The birth of Jesus probably didn’t seem as auspicious an occasion as our modern celebrations of it do, though those with eyes to see certainly knew that their Lord had arrived. And, for us Catholics, the season of Christmas doesn’t take long to get pretty gruesome – December 26 commemorates the martyrdom of St. Stephen, and December 28 the massacre of the Holy Innocents, the latter of which followed rather swiftly in the Nativity’s footsteps (Matthew 2:16-18).
It’s a world of pain out there. And, as Tokyo Godfathers reminded me, some of the wounds we receive can be very deep indeed. But in the midst of it all, redemption can be found – perhaps not always in the pat way that the movie ties up all its loose ends, but in the recognition that, with the advent of Christ, God is now in the thick of it with us.