Last week, I finally got around to watching “Luther” on BBC America. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, Idris Elba plays John Luther a British detective charged with leading a team in the investigation of serial killers. John Luther is smart, calculating and highly effective when it comes to catching bad guys; he is also a broken man. When we meet Luther in the series’ second season, he’s just getting back to work after the brutal murder of his wife. Barely scraping by, the stitching of his life is held loosely by his job, and the only two meaningful friendships he has: one with a sociopathic murderer whose attachment to him borders between fierce loyalty and obsession, and the other with an ex prostitute whose life he saved. These two women help push Luther forward as he goes through the process of slowly rebuilding himself.
The show has been entertaining. It’s smart, well written, funny at times, and the acting is superb. But the thing that has stuck out the most for me has been Luther’s relationship with these two women in his life. Since watching it I’ve come to realize that the most beautiful people I’ve known have all been damaged. People who, like Luther and his friends, were once broken, or nearly broken, but are still here. People who have endured for enduring’s sake. Like Luther, these are the people whose impact on my life has been the most resonating and affecting. I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about why this is and what it says about me.
The first question I tried to get my mind wrapped around was: What does it mean to be damaged? I’ve always thought that life struggles are relative. Regardless of their cause, my pain is no worse than yours and yours is no worse than mine. While I still believe this to be true, I have realized that there are two types of pain: there is the pain caused by things we can control, and there’s the pain that comes from things beyond our reach. While the causes may not effect how painful an experience is, they do effect the subsequent damage we carry with us after the experience has passed. When we are the cause of our own pain, we can look back and point out things we could have done differently and ways we could have avoided it. More importantly, we can look to the future, learn from our mistakes, and avoid making similar ones. But when your life’s greatest pain is caused by things completely out of your control, there is no 20/20 hindsight and there is no guarantee that what has happened will never again happen. This is what it means to be damaged– to be particularly familiar with the unavoidable hurt that accompanies humanity.
What happens to those of us who experience this kind of hurt? What becomes of those of us forced to survive unthinkable, unshakeable experiences? We become mutants. Yes, mutants; each possessed with special powers and abilities specific to what we’ve endured. Our endurance shaping every facet of our personality from how we walk and talk, to how we laugh and love. And each possessed with the uncanny ability to spot others like us. We attract each other. We notice those like us in crowded rooms and gravitate toward one another, our mutant pheromones overpowering any physical attraction we might have to other, “normal” people. And despite the palpable magnetism that exists when two mutants meet, we still clutch tightly to our powers and that which gave them to us. They are our secrets and around them, our strength and character is built.
I’ve known a few mutants in my life; truly known them and allowed them to know me. There has been no more rewarding experience than peeling back the layers of life a person has built to safeguard whatever it is that makes them special. I have a friend who, because of certain childhood trauma, has deeper and more encompassing capacity to love than anyone I’ve ever known. His power is his compassion and empathy. He feels in ways I didn’t know possible. Still, I have another friend who is so far detached from her ability to feel that she can act completely without conscience. Yet still, she chooses to be good. I know her life; she wakes up every single day and chooses to do the right thing. And every single day I marvel at her infallible moral compass because it is completely self-made and self-maintained. I have another friend who is the most optimistic person on the face of the Earth. She’s experienced the kind of stuff you read about in novels by authors like Edwidge Danticat and her perspective is fueled by a fundamental belief that things will get better. For me, these people are more than just acquaintances, more than mere friends, they are comrades– fellow soldiers in the army of survivors– traversing the world with an unfair advantage over mere mortals unacquainted with what it takes to continue on when perseverance is all you have left.
There are people in this world who’ve never experienced pain or loss. They’ve never known what it means to bury someone before their time and they’ve never had their hearts stepped on by someone charged with guarding it. There are people in this world who’ve never had something go wrong when every fiber of their being needed it to go right. I love these people. They are beautiful, hopeful people. They have access to certain desires and emotions that no longer exist in people like me. In that way, I envy them. But if forced to choose, my heart will always be with the broken, patched up souls of those who are intimately aware of just how damaging life in this world can be. Our damage is the tie that binds; it is the source of our deepest fears, our greatest hurt, and every ounce of strength we have.
The broken John Luther and his two equally damaged friends reminded me of myself and all the people I’ve known who keep going despite the oblivion upon which their lives teeter. It reminded me how beautiful are the scars born of struggle and how strong are the mutant powers born of perseverance. Yeah, I really enjoyed the show.
Have you guys watched Luther just yet? What are you thoughts on the show? And what are your thoughts on damaged people? Are you one? Do you avoid them like the plague? What experience do you have in dealing with people whose lives are shaped by not-so-great experiences?