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“You must be that little Spanish brat I taught a lesson to all those years ago. You’ve been chasing me your whole life only to fail now? I think that’s about the worst thing I’ve ever heard. How marvelous.”
Count Rugen’s response to an injured Inigo Montoya, the swordsman looking to avenge his father’s death in The Princess Bride, pained me when I first heard it as a child. Would this horrible man kill Inigo, just as the swordsman was close to achieving his lifelong goal? How unjust! It was difficult for me to watch Inigo, my favourite character in the movie, get stabbed repeatedly by Rugen, the one I most despised.
It’s strange for me to think, but I identify quite strongly with Count Rugen. Not the sadistic, child-scarring, torture-inventing aspects to him, but the “Oh, I can’t believe I had such an impact on you” part. Just as Rugen is surprised by discovering that his foe is the boy he “taught a lesson to all those years ago,” I’ve been realizing lately that we all leave impressions—some profoundly strong—on people all around us, whether we intend to or not.
Unfortunately, just as with Rugen, some of those impacts I’ve made are through actions that are regrettable.
As a teenager, I was a relentless bully. I thrived when I could generate laughs at the expense of others, particularly at an overweight classmate. Day after day I would make fat jokes, pushing him down to puff myself up. He and I eventually went to different schools, and when I next saw him, he had lost significant weight. He was also bitter and unwilling to talk to me despite my apologies. It’s no surprise that I had a left a scar that impacted him greatly. And he wasn’t the only one I had affected— I heard years later about a girl I had also bullied. She had never forgotten the way I treated her.
Maybe I was a lot more like Count Rugen that I would like to admit, torturing those around me for my own pleasure. I regret my behaviour; I wish I could take it back.
There are other things I wish I had done differently, too, and things I wish had done rather than doing nothing. I’m often filled with regret at what I could have done for friends and loved ones, how I should have reached out to others instead of being selfish and indolent. Now, Facebook affords me the opportunity to see how those I once claimed to care so much about have struggled with addiction and other vices.
Though I can’t change my behaviour in the past, I can change what I do now. My interactions with people around me, from acquaintances to loved ones, can bear wonderful fruit as well.
There’s a long lapse between Inigo’s fight scene with Westley near the beginning of The Princess Bride and the next time we see him, inebriated and depressed. But his spirit returns upon the discovery of the six-fingered man’s whereabouts. The only way Inigo can achieve his goal is to remember the duel with Westley. We might not think of a duel as a positive encounter, but the swordsmanship that Inigo witnessed, the feats of strength against Fezzik, the intelligence with Vizzini, and the compassion Westley displayed convinced Inigo that Westley would help him do what is just. And ultimately, justice is served, but only because of a chance encounter where two men were kind to each other, even though they were in a mortal fight and would never expect to see each other again.
My life, too, has been impacted by these little encounters, conversations that I didn’t know would be so meaningful, often with people I would rarely or never see again. There’s the guy who played basketball with me when I was young, and who showed me how to compete with integrity; the cousin who stepped aside from her teenage life to babysit and buy me a beloved set of toy cars; the older gentleman, suffering through illness and battling addiction, who blessed me more than I could him, even though I was leading a group that meant to minister to him; and a classmate whose joyous attitude encouraged me to simply smile more.
These relationships, some altogether brief, caused me to be kinder, care more, and sacrifice harder. The truth is, I have no idea how my words and actions will impact those around me, but I do know that a lot of what I do will touch others in some way. Those moments of kindness are instances of love. I refuse to be a Count Rugen in anyone’s life, not anymore. I’d much rather be Westley—after all, the only thing cooler than a masked pirate is a masked pirate who demonstrates what it means to show wuv. True wuv.