Buzz, Woody and Ugly Tears

(Spoiler Alert: if you haven’t seen Toy Story 4 and get upset about things like movie details you haven’t yet experienced, I’d skip this one)

I love Pixar movies. Pretty much every one of them. Amanda and I saw Toy Story 2 on a date way back in the day and, ever since, have enjoyed taking our kids to see these fantastic films that somehow do the unthinkable by engaging the kids and the adult all at the same time. I don’t know how they do it, but in most of their movies, they manage to bring a tear to my eyes. It’s a cartoon, for crying out loud! But they know how to tug at the ol’ heartstrings.

A few months ago, we took the kids to see Toy Story 4 and, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. Don’t get me wrong: I thought the previous 3 were great, but how long can you milk that cow? Well as it turned out, at least one more time. It’s really a great conclusion to the story, and a fun ride, full of all we’ve come to know and love from Pixar, Buzz and Woody.

What I didn’t expect was being brought to tears, nay, ugly tears at the climatic goodbye scene between Woody and his old friend Buzz. I mean I expected there to be a moment it got a little dusty in there, but not sobs, y’all. I’m not ashamed to admit it. It hit me. HARD. Heck, thinking about it NOW hits me!

As my wife and kids leaned around one another to see if I was having a breakdown, I tried to fight it, but I couldn’t. The tears just kept coming, and I couldn’t figure out why at first.

But then it hit me: they managed to tap into the universal feeling of sadness we all experience when we have to say goodbye. And as we all know, some goodbyes are harder than others. Some, if we’re honest, aren’t very hard at all! But some, dear friend, well they just plain hurt. Some goodbyes feel like you pull out your heart, leave it at the curb, and never get it back.

Like waving goodbye to our parents through the rear window of our SUV as we headed west to start a new life. Or of saying goodbye to friends due to circumstances beyond our control, and feeling the gradual drift that happens due to time and distance. Or maybe goodbye comes in the form of friendships where you no longer see eye to eye on things and sadly, the friendships grow strained, then distant, and eventually end.

And there are the goodbyes which are the hardest of all, the goodbye we will all face, no matter how hard we run, no matter how much we try to ignore it. There is a universal goodbye coming for each and every one of us and those we love. Whether they descend on us suddenly and unexpectedly, or if they follow a long, slow decline, these goodbyes hurt in almost unfathomable ways.

In that theater, in a Pixar movie about talking toys, I felt the weight of all those goodbyes at once, like an avalanche that starts off with a single snowflake but grows until the whole mountain comes down. It just rolled over me again and again, and I couldn’t do a thing to stop it.

But in that moment, a beautiful thing happened, one that brought tears of joy in the midst of sorrow. In their parting, Buzz and Woody weren’t left alone. They might no longer be together, but they weren’t alone. They each left with a community of friends around them, a rag-tag group of dolls and stuffed animals who cared about them and would walk beside them wherever they roamed.

As I left the theater feeling the weight of all those sad goodbyes, I was also lifted by the hope of what is to come. I long for the day when we say goodbye to goodbyes, when sorrow and sickness and loss are behind us. Oh, man how I long for that day!

I was also lifted by the friendships we’ve gained and the life now in front of us. Pixar didn’t set out to recreate Toy Story (thank the Lord). Instead, they took us on a new glorious adventure. We must do the same with the life we’re given, these seconds and minutes and hours and days and weeks and months and years rolling on and on in an ever-increasing blur. Resist the urge to look back and try to recreate what once was…rejoice in what you have, savor every moment, and love the ones you get to walk through life beside.

To infinity and beyond.

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