Well, the season is upon us again! Legend of Korra season 2 began airing two weeks ago, with the third episode capping off last Friday. I glued myself to the television like a small child watching Saturday morning cartoons and devoured every last second of it. I imagine the ‘screaming like a small child’ part will happen in a few weeks when the creators start messing with my emotional stability and attachment to these characters. But in the meantime, I’m able to watch my favorite show in relative tranquility.
For those not in the know, Legend of Korra is an American Animated television show based in an Asian-influenced world. In this world, people can ‘bend’ or control one of the four basic elements— earth, water, fire, or air. The show follows Korra, who happens to be the only person in the world who can bend all four elements— referred to as the Avatar. Spoilers below!
With this new season airing, and the release of the season one soundtrack (I practically threw my 12 bucks at iTunes when I heard about it), my mind continues to snap back to one of the very last scenes of the finale. With the closing of the final battle, it becomes clear that while not all is well, the bad guys are taken care of and the main characters will go on to rebuild their lives from the mess of the final episode. There’s only one problem: In her battle with the main antagonist, Korra finds herself stripped of all of her former abilities to bend the elements. The Avatar, the person born to control all four elements, suddenly can only control her weakest one.
This would be jarring to anyone, but for Korra, it is devastating. Korra has spent her entire life throwing her identity into this one discipline. She’s continually been told how special she is— how she is the only one capable of doing her job, and suddenly she no longer has a job to perform at all. This is more than just a loss of a pastime to Korra— it is a complete loss of her identity. There is no line between what Korra does and who she is, so when this is gone she hits her absolute lowest point of the series. Standing over a barren cliff, watching a freezing slate-like sea adorned with gray clouds, she no longer knows who she is or what she’s living for.
As an achievement-chaser, I couldn’t help but sympathize as I watched this. So much in my life, I’ve thought that if I could just be good at hobby A, awesome at sport B, or great in school, I could create an identity for myself. I viewed myself through the lens of those activities. I was a black belt, a Chemistry student, a writer. I wasn’t a person, so much as the cumulation of every ability I gained— of every talent that I kindled.
I think we all tend to do this to a certain extent in our lives. We start to worship the activities we do as the answers to who we are. We point to our professions and school careers first and foremost when people ask us about ourselves. We are not people who are kind, or brave, or fiesty. We are teachers, managers, football players. We find fulfillment in these things, so we point to them as answers for big life questions. It’s when we’re stripped away of these activities and talents that we suddenly no longer know who we are.
In the past year I’ve lost many activities I used to point to when people asked me who I was. My schooling is finally finished (for now), I took a long break from martial arts because my body no longer agreed with getting injured constantly, and even my writing habit faltered for a few months. I floundered. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who I was, or even why it mattered. And I hated it.
But now, the more I think about it, the more I realize how necessary it was in my life— how much I needed this timeout from everything I’d come to worship about myself. And as I watched the finale to this series again, it finally all clicked into my head.
Sometimes God has to strip us of everything we thought made us up as a person in order to show us who we really are. Sometimes I think we forget that our activities and abilities don’t define who we are— they are a symptom of who we are— a reaction to that core personality we already have, buried beneath the mess of life.
As Korra sat on the cliff, she realized that even with everything taken away, she was still too brave and stubborn to give up. She realized that who she was really didn’t depend on what she did, but rather, who she was. At that moment, she was able to achieve something she hadn’t all season— humility. And through this, she was able to grow and change.
Sometimes our darkest nights, our worst hours, are our best catalysts for change. Sometimes our most profound change can only come by stripping us of the things we worship about ourselves.
Sometimes, at our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.