In “The Avatar and the Fire Lord” episode, Aang is asked by his friend Sokka what the point is of a story Aang just told them about the long and deep friendship between a Fire Nation Lord and the previous Avatar—and the ultimate betrayal of the Avatar by the Lord.
Aang: If anything, their story proves that anyone’s capable of great good and great evil. Everyone, even the Fire Lord and the Fire Nation, have to be treated like they’re worth giving a chance. And I also think it was about friendships.
This snapshot could also be the overarching theme of Avatar: The Last Airbender, a three season arc of animated episodes set in a world of four nations based on their abilities to manipulate one of four elements (fire, water, air and earth) and follows the adventures of 12-year-old Aang, the last Avatar (who can “bend” all four elements) whose destiny is to bring the restoration of and help maintain peace between the four nations. The Fire Lord referenced above wiped out all of Aang’s people (the Airbenders) and the current Fire Lord (his son) is looking to finish the job in his quest to take over the world.
Aang's words also go a long way in explaining why I am so drawn to the series (I’ve probably seen each episode two or three times now). I really appreciate that it consistently illustrates how these great acts of good and evil aren’t born in a vacuum but come on the heels of our previous choices and are influenced by the relationships we share with others. And how we each can make choices that get us off one path and onto the other—and how when we are on the wrong path, we can turn around and get on the right one.
And I especially appreciate how the Aang's words emphasize how the series combines all this with a sense that life is sacred—even the life of an enemy. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ rumination in The Weight of Glory:
[T]he dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. . . . Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.As we begin to allow these truths to sink in, it makes a difference on how we treat others. We begin to see and act towards our neighbor—and even those who may be our enemies—as those who are worth giving a chance. And that is an act of love.
This is echoed in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Aang faces a lot of hard choices. Sometimes he makes the wrong ones. But ultimately, he consistently chooses acts of love, even towards his enemies and sometimes at great cost and risk to himself and his friends. And that brings God-talk into these open spaces.
(Image: DVD cover) miscctgy