If you haven’t had a chance to watch the new animated movie Encanto with music by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Moana, Hamilton), do it as soon as you can. It tells a deeply powerful story of a family that has been given a magical house and individual magical gifts in the wake of a tragedy experienced by the family’s grandmother when she was young. Years later, when the magical house begins to crumble, one of the granddaughters attempts to figure out what is causing the magic to go away. The mystery is eventually solved as the song “Dos Oruguitas” (Two Caterpillars), written entirely in Spanish, speaks simultaneously to the young and the old grandmother, gently encouraging them to let go so they can become who they are meant to be and find new magic. This is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking songs I have ever heard, and every time I hear the words, “Let go, don’t hold on,” tears stream down my face without fail.
What is it that we tend to hold on to? You might think that it’s the good things in our lives, but more often than not, it is the pain, the trauma, the stress, the imbalance of the past. These are the things we carry around with us for years, unwilling or unable to set them down and just walk away. We talk about people having “baggage,” and often that baggage contains our family heirlooms – the traumas of the distant past, the consequences of which are passed down from generation to generation. Our unwillingness to let go of the very things that are hurting us is rooted in the pain of our known history and anxiety about our unknown future. And so we stay in dysfunctional relationships, remain in dysfunctional jobs, and swim in dysfunctional emotions because we are not sure that what’s on the other side is going to be any better or, perhaps, that we even deserve any better.
One of the things pointed out about Encanto is that, unlike other Disney movies, it does not have a villain; it is just a movie about a family. But I disagree. In this story (as in many of our lives), the true villain is the trauma of the past, which when held on to, continues to rob us of life’s magic. As the song about the caterpillars unfolds, we see that 50 years ago during the Columbian Civil War, the grandmother, having just given birth to triplets, fled her home and then lost her beloved husband as a result of the violence around her. This overwhelming loss and grief shaped the rest of her life, leaving her in constant fear for her home and her family and driving her to focus on things that in the end began to tear the family apart instead of bringing it together.
Yet, there is always hope. When caterpillars allow the transformation to take place, they become able to fly, and when we finally say “enough,” we begin to feel lighter and make space for miracles. All of us now are going through the time when things that have been unhealed come up to the surface to be cleared. So if pain, guilt, disappointment, anger, fear, etc. are the things you have carried around for years, it is time. Let it go! Oh, but that’s a whole other Disney story.