He Called Me Brother

I’ve always loved Les Miserables. Before I was old enough to see the movie, I would listen to the soundtrack on repeat and now when I watch it, I can quote the full two and half hours off by heart which really annoys whoever is sitting next to me. You can often catch me humming ‘Do You Hear The People Sing?’ under my breath, or more often at the top of my voice, and I harbour a not-so-secret fantasy of falling off of the top of a barricade wrapped in a bright red flag, a dramatic protest against oppression and injustice. The idea of revolution fascinates me, people coming together and standing up against everything that brings others down. The camaraderie, the defiance, the purpose, I love it all. 

My Dad has always seen himself as more of a Jean Val Jean, the main character of Les Mis, the man who stole a loaf of bread because his sister’s child was starving and was put in jail for nineteen years, emerging bitter and angry until a chance encounter with a bishop turned his life upside down. The bishop showed him unwavering kindness in the face of all his hate and called him ‘brother’ even after Jean Val Jean abused his hospitality and robbed him. Jean Val Jean is the man who went on to be a symbol of hope and forgiveness, a man who rose above his circumstances then reached down to bring as many others as he possibly could with him, no matter what the cost to himself. His life was no longer just about him, it was about creating a better world. In many ways he really is a lot like who my Dad was and who he tries to be. 

Les Miserables is set around the run up to the French revolution. People are really struggling and are growing restless, a bit like the situation we find ourselves in now. The story follows a group of friends who are young and passionate and willing to die for their people and their country. It reaches its climax, everyone is singing, flags are waving, furniture is thrown onto the streets to build this giant barricade and then, with a few gunshots, it’s all over. The few who are on the barricade are slaughtered whilst the people of Paris hide away behind locked doors and closed shutters, too afraid to rise up. 

However, a revolution has already taken place. A revolution that was far more powerful than one which is fought with gunpowder and anger. It had taken place in a heart that was buried beneath layers of bitterness and mistrust. A heart everyone had given up on, even the person it belonged to. Somehow a single word pierced through all the armour to reach a place a bullet could never touch, a place still protected from the poison of hate. “Brother” Jean Val Jean says ‘He called me brother. When I insulted him, he trusted me. When I stole his silver, he gave me a piece that was even more valuable.  All he asked was that I use it to become a more honest man.” If simple human connection could transform a man as screwed up as Jean Val Jean, imagine what it could do for all of us. 

Deep down I know Dad is right when he says he’d rather be Jean Val Jean than a passionate but idealistic revolutionary. In our household, the universal and age-old power of love and connection usually wins out over dying in a blaze of glory and fireworks in many of our hypothetical battles and discussions. 

I still really want to fall off a barricade wrapped in a flag, but I know that in times of desperation a real revolution means that staying silent is not an option any more because something has transformed you. I also know that the only thing that can truly change us like that is something that touches us deep down in our souls, something like love, like human connection, like feeling as though you’re part of something bigger than just yourself and knowing that what you’re doing is right. No matter how desperate the cause, we have to believe in what we’re fighting for so much that it overpowers our fear – fear of change, fear of failure, fear of stepping outside our comfort zone, fear of doing things differently. 

As a family we live our lives very differently to what is considered the norm and we’ve done some things that others may see as crazy, but we don’t do it just for the sake of it. We’re not rebelling and revolting just because we’re frustrated or because we want to make some noise so that everyone knows about it. Everything we do has a purpose because we see ourselves as part of a bigger picture and as part of making this world a better place for everyone. 

So yeah, maybe we are here to start a revolution, but this time it’ll be Jean Val Jean and the bishop on a much larger scale. Maybe one day in the future they’ll write a book and make a movie about what is to come too and it’ll be a true story. But that’ll only happen if this time the people rise with us and if everyone stands together. That way, we’ll be unbeatable. 

By Gracie x