I recently saw Les Miserables with my husband. It is a wonderful, heart wrenching story of sacrifice and grace. Of forgiveness and second chances. Of those who think second chances should not be given. Today, I am listening to the soundtrack and can’t seem to shake the story of one of the characters, Fantine. She has become a prostitute in her desperation to provide for her daughter, Cosette. Her song is entitled, “I Dreamed a Dream”. She tells of better days, of the dreams she had, when she was young. She tells of the man who came into her life and promised her the world, only to leave her when he was done with her. She carried his baby and now she carries the shame. Shame for falling in love, for making a mistake. She is tainted. Her life defined by a single act. The world will make sure she never forgets what she has done. They will make her pay; little mercy shown to a whore. But not Jean Valjean. No, He is a man who knows of failure, of mercy, of forgiveness and of second chances. He shows kindness to Fantine. He picks up her fevered, diseased ridden body and cares for her until she slips away in death.
The irony of this young woman’s life. She was accused and thought of as being a whore long before she ever was one. Her only crime was falling in love and giving herself to a man she thought loved her. It was only later, after she was made an outcast that she became the very thing she never intended to be….never wanted to be. What choice did she have? Her sin had been exposed; little grace is to be shown to an unwed mother. Any reputation she had was shattered. No one would hire her. And so she succumbed. To survive. To provide for her daughter.
To the men who came to see her, she was only a body to be used and discarded. To the world around her, she was only seen as something vile and wretched. Her humanity gone. It is so easy to dehumanize people. To reduce them to nothing more than a societal problem. An inconvenience. Something to be disposed of. I wish I could say that I am not guilty of doing this to people. I am not. For a variety of reasons, some of which I am not even aware of, I can do this to others. Sometimes it is just easier, less emotional, to write people off. To come up with a reason why they are what they are or do the things they do. But this is not the person I want to be. Not in the least. I want to be someone who sees past the exterior. I want to see the person. I want to remember that there is a story behind ugly, behind the unlovely. I want to be kind and compassionate. I want to be merciful and forgiving. I want to give second chances.
I am so thankful for the people God has put in my life that have loved me when I wasn’t my most lovely. When my body was fevered and sick. I am glad they were able to look deeper, past the ugly and to the me inside. I am thankful for the Jean Valjeans in my life and I hope I can be that for others.