During the holidays and looking forward to the coming new year, I sometimes find myself reflecting on the relationships in my life. Inevitably, we all have those people that drive us crazy and challenge our ability to maintain a Christian attitude and behavior. But also, we are blessed with those in our lives that are easy to love, care for and get along with. A movie that came out in November of 1987 highlights a relationship of two people that, although very frustrating at first, evolves into a more compassionate interaction.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles, although written with much humor, has a deep message of pathos. The word pathos is derived from the ancient Greek word for 'suffering' or 'experience'. As with a lot of movies, the plot will often play out to an underlying message important for the human soul. This particular movie is a favorite within my family, especially my two younger brothers, Micah and Paul – big John Candy fans. Of course, we laugh together at the humorous scenes in the movie, but we also feel an emotional tug during some of the deeper revelations regarding human frailty. The two main characters Neal Page (played by Steve Martin) and Del Griffith (played by John Candy) experience an emotional roller coaster during their Thanksgiving season travels. While Page is a marketing executive just trying to get home to his family for the holiday, Griffith on the other hand is a seamlessly care-free, almost irresponsible, very talkative shower curtain hook salesman. Through many difficulties at the beginning of their journey from New York to Chicago, Griffith finds himself to be more of a burden and annoyance to Neal. From travel issues, being robbed, near death experiences, and the constant differences in personality types, the two share a life-changing three days of adventure. Their constant differences lead to a heated outburst from Page to Griffith when he can barely take any more, “When you’re telling these little stories, here’s an idea: Have a point! It makes it so much more interesting for the listener.” The emotion at that time in the movie shifts as Griffith opens up to his self-realization, “Yeah, you’re right: I talk too much. But I also listen too much. I could be a cold-hearted cynic like you, but I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings. I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. ‘Cause I’m the real article. What you see is what you get.” WOW…what a moment of emotional connection for the pair. It doesn’t alleviate their struggles to get home for the holiday, but it sheds a new light on how treating others should be taken seriously, especially in the words we speak.
Neal Page and Del Griffith may not have become best friends as a result of their paths crossing, but their lives and views of others were changed for the best. The underlying message of making an emotional connection with those around us becomes evident as the plot concludes. My challenge would be to take the time in your life to connect with people around that, at first, may annoy and frustrate you, but ultimately may be hurting under life’s difficulties and struggles. They may need a compassionate acquaintance to encourage them and give them motivation to continue on their unique journey.
Growing up in a Christian home, nurtured my belief that true joy in life comes from putting others before myself and serving with a happy heart. Hence the acronym J.O.Y. plays out as the ordered priorities of Jesus, Others and You.
Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Put Jesus first, above all else, in your life.
Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave us.” – Put others before yourself.
1 Corinthians 6:20 “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” – Take care of yourself, being mindful of whose you are.
We all need help treating others with mercy and love when they frustrate us or don’t measure up to our expectations, but with the help of the Holy Spirit we can be light and salt to this world and make a difference in lives of people around. The revelation that Del makes to Neal at the movie scene when they part to go separate ways brings the whole human frailty component to light, “I don’t have a home, Neal. Marie’s been dead for eight years.” At this point Neal is humbled to the point of inviting Del to enjoy Thanksgiving with his family, when all along he couldn’t wait to get away from Del and back home. Each and every day is a gift from God, why not spend it showing His love and mercy to hurting people around us?