Confronting one’s past can be a terrifying experience, especially when that means reopening nearly-healed wounds that are still sore to the touch. Unfortunately, in order to find oneself, suppressing emotions is not an option. Sometimes in order to truly heal, one must dig deep into those old wounds as a way to figure out who it is they are meant to be, or at least that is the experience I have had. I am the type of person who always ran away from my past and never looked back to see how it may have been affecting me as an individual. For years, I was scared of reflecting on my life and never once did I consider the idea that there may be a reason anxiety and depression entered my life so early on. I never considered this might be why I never fully healed. Through Wim Wenders’ beautiful 1987 film, Wings of Desire, I am now able to realize that I have allowed my past to become a chain that is holding me back. With that, I have also been able to use four characters from the movie to identify the exact chains that I have attached to myself and begin the process of breaking free from them, turning them into newly found wings. Through this, I have been able to turn my wounds to scars, scars that let me know I was hurt, but that I survived.
- The Man on the Ledge
Towards the middle of the movie, Cassiel confronts a young man sitting on the ledge of a building. The man is contemplating suicide, unable to remedy his broken heart. Cassiel attempts to ease the mind of the man and try to prevent him from jumping, but to no avail (Wenders 1:09:01). The man could not feel Cassiel helping him. He could not feel any ease to the pain he felt and would do anything possible to feel relief. While watching the movie, I deeply resonated with this man.
One area of my life that I am never afraid to discuss is my mental health. I am very blunt with the fact that I have severe anxiety and mild depression. However, I often leave out one piece of my mental health. I do not mean to leave it out, but I would rather people not know the dark thoughts that often control my mind (and still sometimes do to this day).
Unknown to almost every individual in my life, I understood what that man on the ledge was going through because I nearly took my own life; the only difference was that I was able to feel my angel trying to save me. I did not know it at the time, but looking back, I now know that an angel, like Cassiel, was with me in my room. There is always an angel out there trying to help a suffering individual, but it is just a matter of feeling them and knowing that they are there to make the person feel less alone. Looking back on my moment of darkness, I can identify the exact thoughts that were whirling around in my young mind. Now I understand why they were there in the first place.
March 20, 2013. I remember that night as if it were yesterday. Like the man in the movie, I thought: “This time I’m doing it. Funny I’m so calm” (Wenders 1:07:30). It was around six o’clock and I had just gotten back from a day at Bay Academy, my middle school where I experienced the worst cyber and verbal bullying of my life. On that particular day, my depressive thoughts consumed me. They were telling me how it was my fault that my family nearly lost our house just barely a year and a half prior; how I was the reason that my parents were constantly yelling at each other; that I was to blame for having “friends” in elementary school who abandoned me and began to make fun of me; that it was my fault that any bad event had occurred in my life up to that point. As I sat in my room bawling my eyes out, hands trembling, barely able to breathe, I looked at my dresser in front of me, where I saw the razor from a broken sharpener pleading to be used. And I heard the voice in my head telling me: “Do it; End the pain.” My mind was racing, thinking similar words to the man on the ledge: “All these thoughts. I’d really rather not think anymore” (Wenders 1:08:53). I was ready to say goodbye to my pain for good, but then I felt an angelic-like presence. It was a presence I had not felt for nearly 7 years, as it reminded me of my father’s mother who had passed away when I was 6 years old. She wrapped me up in a hug and told me that I would be okay. That I needed to choose to live. And so, I did.
As KP stated, “You are not ready to face an angel. They will rip you apart and leave you unstable and with a homeostatic upset" (Gordon, Class Discussion). I was terrified of what this presence was. I had never felt anything like it before. But I somehow felt safe again. I knew that I had to keep going, even if it caused me tremendous pain. I understood why “Wenders celebrates life by telling the audience to become proactive and live” (Orellana, par. 4). I now comprehend the reason for my lowest point. Unlike the man in the movie who was heartbroken, I was caught up in my past and had allowed it to consume me. It held me down like an anchor while also holding me back like a chain. It took until 2019, six years later, to come to terms with the fact that it had nothing to do with not being “enough,” but had everything to do with being stuck in the past and feeling lost. It had to do with emotions, not truth. Somehow it is comforting to know that there are other people in this huge world who experience this feeling every day. Do I wish I could take their pain away as well? Of course, but for now, I will have to suffice with the knowledge that I can help ease their pain and work with others to dig into why these thoughts are there. With that in mind, I am now able to dig deeper into the why for my feeling lost and try to understand it.
- The Trapeze Artist, AKA Marion
Marion is a French woman who travels to Germany to be a part of the circus, the one thing that she loves the most in life. Ironically, it is like a safety net for her, despite not having one during her act. However, towards the beginning of the movie, it is revealed that the circus she is a part of will be having its last performance that night as they have run out of money. Knowing that the circus is closing leaves Marion feeling broken, depressed, and even suicidal, leading her to consider an “accidental” sabotage for her performance later that night (Wenders 28:45). She goes back to her trailer and thinks about her future; she considers going back to her waitressing job, while also considers the fact that she is “Like a small animal, lost in the woods,” who is left wondering, “Who are you? I don’t know anymore” (Wenders 30:19). She feels as though the one thing that brought her joy in life is now gone forever. However, she does use music as an escape from this hurt and confused feeling.
However, it can be seen in Marion’s eyes that she feels as though her life’s purpose and passion is gone. She says, “My circus dream, souvenirs for 10 years from now” (Wenders 28:01). Her lifelong dream is fading away right in front of her eyes and she does not know what to do with the little pieces of her that are left behind. For me, these words resonated on a deeper level, as I myself have known the pain of losing a dream that I had for a long time. Slowly but surely, I could feel my so-called dream slipping away, leaving me in what felt like a confusing maze.
Two years ago, much like Marion after the circus closed, I began to feel lost. It all began when one of the most important people in my life, my grandmother, passed away. She always did her best to make sure I felt loved, even though she never directly said it to me. The phrase “I love you” was not freely spoken. However, through her actions and words, I could feel that all she wanted for me was to be happy and safe. That is why when she moved onto the spiritual world, for the first time in my life I felt completely vulnerable. I had no clue what to do in order to fight for myself. I felt terrified and confused for the rest of 2017 and into the beginning of 2018. However, my pain reached a peak in February of 2018, a month after I had committed to Hofstra University. I felt as though I was not living the life I wanted, and this made me feel even more scared and dazed than when my grandmother passed. Sure, I still wanted to attend Hofstra, but I realized that the career path I chose was not the one I wanted. Unfortunately, this was a path that I had envisioned since I was 12 years old. Because I had been on that journey for six years, I was terrified to deviate from it, even though I knew it was not my dream I was chasing. I realized that I had been “carnally guided” by my family and society, just so I did not lose “the approval of those who had little concern for my well-being” (Araya, par. 2). I was also desperately trying to keep my family’s approval when it came to my career choice. I was stuck in Lawrence Kohlberg’s stage 3 of development where I “act[ed] in ways to avoid disapproval” (Amidon, par. 8) in order to prevent my family from abandoning me. However, as the beginning of college approached and the summer came to an end, I realized that I had to break free from the place I was stuck in. The only problem with it was realizing why I was stuck: the fear of my family abandoning me again. And although it is terrifying to confront it, I know now that if I am to find my own path, the path to my true passion, I need to break free from not only my family’s expectations, but the chains placed on me by them and my past in general.
- The Angel, AKA Damiel
For as long as I can remember, I was never “enough” to my family. They never showed me love the way other families do; they never allowed me to be my true self, and would constantly berate me for being “different.” I used to be a very bubbly, outgoing, talkative, funny and sassy child, but I was constantly yelled at for being all the things that made me me. I was told it was somehow “wrong” to be positive and an overly friendly person who saw the best in everyone. Even worse, I was never allowed to follow the passions I wanted. Although I do love to sing, act, and dance, it was never something that I truly wanted. My parents introduced it to me and would do whatever it took to keep me there, even if it meant keeping me away from my real love: film. Despite barely being able to afford all the different dancing, acting, and vocal lessons, my parents would push me to do it while telling me I was never trying hard enough or that I would never make it. And, unfortunately, I believed them. I still remember believing that singing was helping my anxiety issues. Although there are brief moments where it brings me peace, I soon realized that music overall was actually worsening the anxiety. I was in fear that I was never going to be “enough” for my parents. Growing up, they would often yell at each other about not being good enough individuals or trying hard enough in life, leading me to wonder: If my parents were not enough for each other, how could I be enough for them?
Soon though, I realized that, as Jim Adkins wrote for his band, Jimmy Eat World’s 2001 smash hit, “The Middle,” “It doesn't matter if it’s good enough for someone else” (Jimmy Eat World) because it only had to be enough for me. With this realization came another one: I was just like Damiel. Both of us felt as though we were not living the lives we desired and we both wanted to gain new experiences. The difference, however, is that Damiel wishes to be like the humans that he has been protecting for eternity, while I wish to be the person I have dreamed about being my entire life. Damiel has his heart set on Marion throughout the film, pleading to do more than love her from afar. However, we see him discuss with Cassiel how he is “fed up with [his] spiritual existence” (Wenders 13:24) and how he wants to have the ability of “coming home after a long day to feed a cat like Philip Marlowe” (Wenders 14:29). He wants to participate in the activities that he observes every day. He feels as though he has “Been on the outside long enough . . . Absent long enough” (Wenders 1:04:38) and wants to be a part of the history that he watches go by every day. He longs for the ability to love and feel like those that he protects. Although Damiel and I are experiencing different forms of longing, I understand what it is like to feel as though the life, spiritual or physical, that one has been provided is not the life that was meant for them. I have a desire for so much more than what was told or given to me and it is comforting to see that even an angel can have a desire for those things as well.
I long for the day when I can freely talk to someone without the fear that I am a burden or that they will think of me as a “weirdo.” I yearn to be able to talk to my parents without the underlying fear that they will be upset with me for pursuing a career that I want. And most of all, I dream of living in a society and a family that chooses “a power to join” (O’Malley, par. 10) as opposed to “a power to prevent” (O’Malley par. 6). Like Damiel, I want to be able to be the person I want to be and I have to find myself before anything else. I also know that to meet these goals I have to take a risk and get out of my comfort zone in order to become who I want to be just like Damiel did when he gave up his eternal life (Wenders 1:31:30).
So far, I have been able to stand up to my parents and have proved them wrong on their belief that I would not be able to take care of myself at college. I have also been able to fight for what I want and can proudly say that I am finally a film major, even if that means I do not have my family’s full support. I am breaking free of the chains that have been placed on me by learning to accept my past instead of running from it. I am breaking free of the chain that hid who I really am: a funny, friendly, kind-hearted, somewhat opinionated, overly caring girl with a slight attitude from Brooklyn who gives more than she gets, but also knows what she deserves. I am finally able to see the colors and bright lights that have been hidden from me just as Damiel finally saw color for the first time in his life. Both our lives were lived in a black and white world, and it finally is transforming into a colorful, whimsical world.
Although it has been a tough battle, and the war is far from over, I know I am not alone. I have my best friend, Jacklyn, fighting with me and cheering me on. And I know that my grandmother is standing by my side, like the angels in the movie, pushing me towards my end goal. I have been able to create my own community where the feeling of alienation does not exist and where anyone who needs love will receive that love. The wings to becoming my newly found person are close, but I also know that before I can have them, and in order to fly off to whoever I am to become or get my suit of armor like Damiel (Wenders 1:32:19), I must first look deeper into my past and my present to appreciate what life is truly about.
- The Dying Man on the Bridge
Something that everybody says is important is to appreciate the little things in life. These little things are the beautifully colored trees in the fall or a summer breeze. They are the joys of hanging out with a group of friends or even falling in love. Although I realize that other people will think of it differently, I have learned to appreciate these little idiosyncrasies of life. Comforted by Damiel, the man who is dying after getting in a motorcycle accident begins to remember these little pieces of life, “The Southern Cross. The Far East. The great North. The Wild West . . . . Stromboli. The old houses of Charlottenburg. Albert Camus. The morning light. The eyes of the child.” (Wenders 36:48). Seeing him remember these “unimportant” aspects of life has caused me to look back on my past and observe little moments that have made my life worth living.
As he is leaning on the curb slowly losing his life, he considers the things he should have done. For instance, he thinks. “Karin, I should have told you,” (Wenders 36:22) and how “It can’t be that simple, I’ve still so much to do” (Wenders 36:26). He continues to think of the things he could have done in the past until Damiel beings to whisper in his ear all the little things that have made his life grand. It is with this that I began to see my past differently.
When considering my past, I see these little moments that I would always forget because of the amount of pain caused by bigger incidents. These moments I have found, however, have a far more and deeper meaning than I let on; for instance, the joy that I had when I first found out I got into Hofstra. It was a December morning in my English class and I knew that I would find out sometime that week, so I let curiosity get the best of me, and I checked my Hofstra portal. I was not expecting the “Welcome to the Pride” to pop up on my iPhone and I began to freak out from joy, literally falling out of my chair because of the excitement. Finding out about Hofstra would always slip my mind due to the pain I still felt from losing my grandmother earlier that year. I was still hurting, so my memory of this exciting and pivotal moment was hindered by that of sorrow. But now the moment is brighter and I am able to appreciate it more.
One of the most touching moments I am very fond of now is a panic attack I had after an acting lesson in preparation for my upcoming high school auditions. I was in the car with my father and my best friend Jacklyn, after a rough rehearsal. But me being me, I did not show that I was upset nor that I felt like a failure. However, as we drove off, I broke into tears and began having a full-fledged panic attack. It would be the first of many times that Jacklyn would see me in this state. The reason I love this little moment so much is that it made me realize that she accepts me for who I am. She has been the one person since that moment who I know will always be there for me when it feels like no one else will be. And it is with the help of my best friend that I am no longer scared to break free of my past and my chains if it means becoming a person that I am happy with.
I know it is a long journey, and I am only at the beginning, but I am excited to see the person that comes out on the other side. Since last semester, KP has inspired me to be the person that I want to be and not a person that someone else wants me to be. Through his help, my best friend, some therapy, and Wenders’ movie, I am finally able to say that I am free. I am no longer held down from the pressures I have let control my life for the past 19 years. I have been spared of the societal pressure that has consumed my thoughts for as long as I can remember. I am open to being a person who is happy with herself again and is unafraid to feel. I have realized that I need to live for me, and not for anyone else. I will always be a person who cares for others before herself, but I realize now that before I can help others, I have to help myself. I am ready for a bloody battle or two, but if it means winning the war to be myself, then so be it. I am finally free to show my battle wounds and show others that, if I survived, then others can too. As my favorite band, All Time Low said, I have to “Hold on tight, [because] this ride is a wild one” (All Time Low, “Missing You”), but I am ready for the ride. I am ready to find me. I have accepted my past, learned to love it, and am learning how to live with wings instead of chains.
All Time Low, “Missing You,” Future Hearts, John Feldmann, 2015
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Wings of Desire. Dir. Wim Wenders. Perf. Bruno Ganz, Otto Sander, Solveig Dommartin. Road
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