A show that I do not talk enough about in these blogs is Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA), and that’s a personal failing. I’ve included a well-written article from Kotaku.com at the bottom, but in short, it’s the story of a world divided up into four elemental nations – water, earth, fire, and air. An indeterminate section of the population has the ability to psychically manipulate the element of their national heritage, a gift called “bending”. However, one person known as the Avatar can bend all four elements, and exists as the bridge between the human and spirit world. This spirit-human hybrid reincarnates, emerging from one nation, and then the next, lifetime after lifetime in a continuous cycle. At the time the show begins, a hundred-year war has been raging with the Fire Nation spreading its imperial ambitions across the globe. This war began when the new Avatar, who was expected to come from the Air Nation, failed to appear on the world stage. It turns out that that young airbender, named Aang (short ‘a’) had run away after learning of his destiny and was lost in a storm. He was frozen in ice for a century and was awakened by a young pair of siblings from the Southern Water Tribe, Sokka and Katara. He then goes on a three-season adventure, traveling the globe with his companions to learn all the other elements and defeat the Fire Nation, thus ending the war and restoring balance to the world. For me, however, the character of greatest interest is in one of the show’s early antagonists.
Aang and his friends spend the first season being ruthlessly pursued by Zuko, the crown prince of the Fire Nation, who was scarred across his face by his father, Fire Lord Ozai, exiled, and told not to return until he had killed or captured the Avatar. Zuko was accompanied in his banishment by his uncle, Iroh. General Iroh had been first in line for the throne, and had led his troops to many great victories in battle; after his only son died, however, Iroh lost his will to fight and his lust for power. When his younger brother superseded him in place for rule, he accepted it, and embarked on a global journey of self-discovery, coming to a great spiritual awakening in the process.
Once Iroh returned home, he took young Zuko under his wing. When the prince was exiled, he chose to accompany him, training the boy and parsing wise counsel to him. Zuko, for his part existed in a state of constant rage, and was not all that receptive to his uncle’s counsel, often belittling him, which of course only served to make his life worse, not better. The harder Zuko worked at achieving his goals, the more success would slip through his fingers, and the closer he came to death each time. As the show progresses, however, Zuko goes through a heroic journey of his own, whereby he learns to confront, process, and release his anger. He comes to question all of his assumptions, and as he does so, he learns to see life through new eyes, and has a whole new appreciation for the very act of living.
As I said in the preceding miniseries, I too had to be humbled, even more that I already was. In the last six months I went through a breakup, my jobs shut down, my beloved car was totaled, I was publicly slandered, I watched my business ventures wither on the vine, and my daughter moved to another state. Finally, I took a hint and stopped running around long enough to stare my problems in the face. I came to see that I was living my life through an armor of pride, believing that I was impervious to the thoughts of others, when in truth I was just masking a deeper problem. I exposed my public enemy’s machinations, revealed their hypocrisy, and stared the fears they represented in the face, only to see my own faults reflected back to me.
Writing the last batch of blogs helped me organize the abstract thoughts the churned in the back of my mind into something that I could understand consciously. As I continue in this new miniseries, I will draw out the parallels between Zuko, Iroh, and myself. I’m mainly doing this work for me, but I hope that at least some of you can benefit from what I’ve learned. I’m honestly not sure if it will enable me to achieve the Apotheosis I’m looking for, but it’s my best shot, and as far as I can tell it’s my only way forward.
The Life of Iroh:
YouTube intro: https://youtu.be/4mBCCi1SNLQ