A Different Journey – Reflections on Avatar

by Becky Burns /
Becky Burns's picture
Feb 20, 2010 / 0 comments

Over the past month or so, I haven’t traveled much outside my snowy wintery region.


Wintery View


A brief trip to New York City for New Year's was fun, but rang a bit hollow for me. The photo below is from 5th avenue near Rockefeller Center. You can imagine the crowds, the roasting chestnuts, the Christmas windows at Saks, and the ball dropping to usher in 2010. A new decade. Sorry for the yawn.


Christmas in New York



The travel I write about on this silent February day has to do with the journey of experiencing another person's body as your own.  I think the definition of compassion includes the awareness of “walking in someone else’s shoes”. Well, this is a bit of a take on that concept, magnified to the level of shape shifting and what it means to be able to travel truly to the outer world of new abilities.

By now, most of us have seen the movie “Avatar”.  Many people mistakenly refer to the peaceful moon-loving creatures in the movie as “avatars”, but they are not. The avatars are the look-alike wannabees that are there to try to study the Na’vi and their habitat. Aside from the buzz about the movie and its possible messages of the evils of conquest and war, the larger story seems to be connected to its title – Avatar. Jake Sully is the young marine who is given “a fresh start in a new world” by becoming one of the avatars. This opportunity is given to him only after his brother, who was the wizard scientist that was supposed to be on this mission, dies. So Jake goes to his mission with a heavy heart and legs that are paralyzed. Because his DNA best matches that of his twin brother, he gets the gig.

And there, to me, is the larger story. This strand is not typically what people remember about the movie, because of course it is also about how these creatures love their moon, Pandora. How they take care of it and are connected to it deeply and reverentially. And the contrast between them and the resource-thirsty non-natives, with their metal robotic armor, their missiles and their impatience…ready to destroy, completely unconscious of the ramifications of their actions. Certainly this is an important message as well. But look at the end of the movie. Jake is given a new life as a Na’vi, not because he deserves it (oh the discussions of this in the cafes!), but because he has learned the basic premise of the moon’s indigenous clan.

And just how is he able to “get it”? Because he knows what existence is like without the use of his legs. Jake has felt the painful reality of his disability. For a moment he considers selling out as the colonel promises him that he will “get his real legs back” if he cooperates and accomplishes the mission. He struggles with this, knowing how it has felt, once again, to have the use his legs in the form of his avatar….to travel to that place where he can run, jump, and climb.  He wants desperately to have these abilities again. And yet he learns, with the help of Neytiri, that there is a deeper reason for existence. He comes to understand the Na’vi’s rituals of thanking an animal or a flower and seeing the soul of another. His journey is the ultimate passage from obedient marine to defender of the Na’vi way. He travels far. From a paraplegic young man, to a Na’vi leader who not only runs, but flies. Who not only hears, but listens. Perhaps that is the best lesson as we contemplate our own journeys ahead…



Becky Burns, our Soulful Traveler editor, is
an educator living in the Chicago area. Her column will give you
insight and inspiration, taking you to the core or essence of the
travel experience, something we all feel as a result of exploration and
discovery. Look for her monthly postings describing local exploits in
and around Chicago, regional road trips in the Midwest, national
adventures from coast to coast, and overseas excursions. You are bound
to be inspired and enriched, nodding your head in agreement as a
familiar reminiscence comes to light again.  You can find her work at www.beckyburns.com or www.soothethespirit.com

Photo courtesy and copyright Becky Burns.