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An Arrow to the Heart

Hey y’all, It’s Matt!

For those of you that don’t know me, I’ve been a REP facilitator for about a year now, primarily in Greenville County. I wanted to take some of my time this week and share a little bit about my life and a small piece of what has lead me to where I am today.

During the midst of COVID-19, I’ve had the freedom to look back and re-watch a few of my favorite TV shows and movies. It’s fascinating how even just watching clips of my favorite shows is bringing back old memories. There’s really something to be said for the power of fictional narrative!

Earlier today I posted a few Instagram stories relating to comics, so I figured I’d stick to that same vein of thought and talk briefly about one of my favorite TV series of all time, and why it means so much to me! Spoilers ahead!! Before I go further, I want to be clear: the following thoughts and ideas are my own. I don’t have all the answers, but I want to use this post to point out that we can learn from media, from stories, and from shows. That is all.

*Please excuse the pun in the title.*

On October 12th, 2012, the first episode of Arrow was released. At the time, I was a junior in high school. Now – I know there are some mixed feelings about this show from fans of DC Comics as well as general viewers. After all, it didn’t always have the best acting and there were certainly parts of the show that I wished would have ended differently. All in all, I love this show through and through. In a lot of ways, it was a guide for me. Let me explain what I mean.

In the beginning of Arrow, we’re introduced to the main character of Oliver Queen. A brooding, mysterious, and violent party boy who was rescued from an island after five years of living hell. He returns to a world that believes him to be dead, and lives for one mission: to complete his father’s dying wish of saving his city. For the first few seasons, there are a few narratives that Oliver/The Hood live by. Before saying them, let me add: these narratives are very similar to ones that I told myself/lived by as well. Here they are:

“It’s my job to save this city, even if I lose myself in the process.”

When I first started watching Arrow, there was a large part of me that loved this mentality. It doesn’t matter the mistakes or harm I cause, as long as I’m doing what I’m called to do. Oliver used “saving his city” as a personal justification for killing and violence. In season 5, we see that he admits to this: “I wanted to, and I liked it!”

“If you hurt something I love, you’re dead.”

Oliver had no problem removing people that got in his way. In some sense, he viewed himself as the ultimate avenger. His mindset reflected much of how I saw myself, even into college years, and still some today: “I’m the only one who can do this, so I’m going to do whatever I need to do to.” Throughout watching Arrow, I saw my own perspectives change along with Oliver’s. Instead of seeing those I loved as weak and reliant on my strength, I began to see them as my strength!

“To complete my mission, I have to become something else.”

 Each and every episode of Arrow in season one started with this quote: “I must become someone else. I must become something else.” For the rest of the series, this phrase was continually adapted and changed until even the last episode of Arrow in season 8.

There is something really enticing about becoming a hero. The real pull for me was this: being a vigilante allows you to utilize your weakness in a way that gives you the excuse to not address it. For Arrow, he justified violence and anger by using that to be “something else”. At least, for a while, he did.

“No one can know my secret.”

We all have things to hide. There’s no questioning that. We hear Oliver say these words twice throughout the series. The first is in the pilot, right before he kills someone who has kidnapped him. The objective argument is this: “If I let this man live, he will tell everyone that Oliver Queen, me, is the hood, and I will no longer be able to live as a vigilante. My family is at risk, and my life as a free human is at risk. For the betterment of my city, I have to kill this man.” At heart, however, I imagine him thinking this: “I can’t live with my mistakes. I can’t live with what I’ve done, and I can’t face the people I love knowing that they see right through me. I’m not willing to address this secret beast inside of me die, so I must end this man’s life.” For most of us, we’re never going to get into a situation where that decision has to be made. But, we make decisions like that every day – at least, I do. If I hide truth, it means that I don’t have to deal with my mistakes and my wrongdoings.

In high school, I had a serious anger problem that really only came out at home. For the most part, it wasn’t a problem for me. I got what I wanted, and sometimes being angry felt like a relief from what was really underneath – anxiety, fear, doubt, shame. As long as my friends didn’t see who I really was, I was okay. Or so I believed.

“I can’t let anyone close, because they will be hurt.”

 When your heart has been broken enough times, and you’ve seen enough pain in your life, it’s easier to avoid those things all together. In Oliver’s case, he went through a lifetime of pain in five years. More than that, he was taught that having people close to him was a weakness.

So. Seven seasons later, I’d gone through college. I’d moved to a new state, by myself. I’d started a new job. I’d changed, a lot. Seven seasons later, Oliver Queen was also a different person. Those narratives he had written for himself in his early life? All but gone. Or rather, not gone, but transformed.

“I love this city, and I trust that they will move forward despite my mistakes, even when I’m gone.”

 His life became less about him. His eyes had been opened to the harm he had done, and he devoted his life to making his world a better place. Not always by violence – but by love, leadership, and humanity.

“I’ll sacrifice everything I have to save those I love.”

In the end – spoilers – he looked destiny in the face and told it no. He forfeited a calm and peaceful life with his family in order to save those he had learned to deeply love, which by the way – was the entire universe. He was only able to do this once he realized that the health of his city wasn’t reliant on him being the best hero, but on him being a better man.

“I have to become a better man.”

Oliver started his campaign against crime by telling himself that he had to become a better fighter. He had to become a legend that criminals would learn to fear. He ends the series as a complete human: vulnerable, broken, guilty, strong, victorious, strong-willed, loving, and even angry. He stopped using “the Hood” as an excuse to leave his past unreconciled. And most importantly, he stopped demanding that others come to grips with who he was – he learned to apologize without a demand of acceptance.

“I have to reckon with my mistakes to become a better man for the people I love.”

In short, he saw his work as a service to his city and saw others as more worthwhile than himself. That’s when he was strongest.

“The people I love are what make me strong.”

If there’s one theme of this show, it’s this point:

Love makes you vulnerable, but it also makes you the best version of yourself. Loving means you have to trust that they can take care of themselves. It also means that when you fall, they are there to pick you up. It means you’re never forgotten, and that you are always worth while. 

I wrote this blog because I think a lot of us are impacted by the shows we see, the celebrities we look up to, or the books that we read. And I want to say two things about this: pursue the greatness that you long for in the characters you love! But, at the same time, remember that we only see a glimpse of what their lives are like, so don’t beat yourself down for not meeting those expectations. That being said, I’ll close with this.

In so many ways, the story of Oliver Queen reflects my own life and how I deal with relationships. Watching the show was a way for me to look at myself and challenge my weaknesses and find courage in my strengths. It was sad to see the show end, but John Diggle’s final words over Oliver’s grave ring true:

“The Oliver that I met eight years ago is not the one we say goodbye to today. Oliver always told me that in order to save his city he had to become someone else, he had to become something else. I always thought that meant becoming the green arrow. Today I realize that it meant becoming a better man – the best man he knew how to be.”

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