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What Biblical Moses and Rey From 'Star Wars' Taught Me

A centuries-old pattern of storytelling offers life lessons we need today.

I unpacked the Amazon box like the contents were sacred. I carefully unfolded the beige capri pants and held up the x-shaped tunic. When I saw the double-wrapped belt with a faux lightsaber, I got tingly. At 50 years old, I was a kid again, drifting into the fantasy world of feeling like my favorite superhero, Rey from Star Wars.

“Mom! Let’s get dressed up!” my 7-year-old son yelled as he rummaged through the Star Wars costume bin and grabbed his Kylo Ren cape and mask.

It was October 2018. I was Rey for Halloween. I’m not sure which of us was more excited.

I couldn't wait to escape from me!

I was a middle-aged woman struggling to find a new teaching job, a wife stacking toilet paper rolls under the bathroom sink, and a mom nagging her son to use toothpaste and put on his underwear.

I’d rather be Rey.

Source: Becky Diamond
My husband, son, and I dressed up as 'Star Wars' characters for Halloween. October 2018.
Source: Becky Diamond

Connecting with my inner superheroes

Rey wasn’t the first. In 1977, it was Princess Leia from Star Wars. In 1997, it was Harry Potter. And in 2018, it was King T’Challa from Black Panther.

And each spring, it’s Moses, the protagonist of the Passover story. He reminds me to never give up, even when things aren’t looking good. He always makes me feel a better future is possible.

I really needed Moses this year as COVID turned the world upside down, and I got lost in what wasn’t instead of what could be.

A new, unwelcome normal set in. I longed for the small moments that I had taken for granted: sharing meals with family and friends, mask-less playdates, even an office with four walls. In the fall, I learned I wouldn’t be teaching this year. I was home, looking for work in a market where jobs were scarce and searching for an identity beyond wife and mom.

The Passover story

The story of Moses is both unique and familiar. He was born to Jewish parents but raised in a pharaoh’s palace by an Egyptian princess. He saw injustice and rebelled in the name of God to free his people. He led them out of Egypt.

They wandered for 40 years in the desert and faced great hardship. During their struggles, they questioned their commitment to God. Finally, Moses received the Ten Commandments, his people entered the land of Israel, and they started a new nation.

This past year has felt like 40 years in the desert for all of us.

Rabbi Sharon Brous, who leads the IKAR congregation in Los Angeles, calls the Passover story “a blueprint” for a survival story. She says, “It builds a kind of ‘spiritual muscle memory’ or a toolkit that helps us survive challenging moments.”

It’s a tale that is part of our DNA. From the earliest stories on clay to what we watch on our modern tablets, there is a common narrative.

The hero's journey

Joseph Campbell was a professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College and author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces. He wrote that ancient myths, legends, and biblical stories share a pattern of storytelling known as “the hero’s journey.”

George Lucas and other Hollywood filmmakers use this template.

A child is born and is often abandoned or orphaned. He struggles to survive and make sense of his place in the world. Someone or some force discovers him, or perhaps he has an epiphany. He ventures out, by force or necessity. He learns new skills and battles bad guys. He struggles. He suffers. He persists.

He returns home to his people and saves them with his newfound knowledge and an inner strength he discovered by surviving life’s most challenging moments.

Is that Harry Potter? Frodo from The Lord of the Rings? King T’Challa from Black Panther? Raya from Raya and the Last Dragon? Or maybe it’s Simba from The Lion King?

Lisa Cron, a psychological storyteller, wrote in her book Wired for Story: “Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution—more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to.”

Namely: hope, courage, and resilience. This is the story of our evolution as Homo sapiens. We left Africa, abandoning all that was familiar. We searched for better climates, new food sources, and different ways of life. We battled other hominids to claim the Earth as ours. And throughout history, we have fought for new world orders, hoping good will triumph over evil.

In today’s COVID world, narratives like the hero’s journey or the Passover story are particularly relevant, according to media psychologist Pamela Rutledge. “We feel out of control, vulnerable, and helpless,” and because of that, she says, it’s crucial to feel that “hope really matters.” These stories give us the chance to “understand what it means to be heroic.”

My journey

During this past year, I haven’t felt very brave. Indeed, I’ve been afraid, scared of getting COVID, nervous my son is falling behind in school, and anxious that I won’t find work.

And I complained about the little things—like my glasses fogging while wearing my face mask or my son spending too much time playing Roblox. Meanwhile, my fridge was full, and school was in-person.

I can’t imagine that Moses whined. I was surprised by my own kvetching. I know how to survive tough experiences. One afternoon 25 years ago, just three days before my wedding, my fiancé called it off. “I can’t do it,” he said. “I don’t love you enough.”

Tears flowed. I threw myself an ongoing pity party as my friends got married and popped out babies. Humiliation, anger, and despair became my companions, and they taught me something priceless: I could survive heartache and recover from feeling crushed.

I decided my story would not end as a canceled wedding cliché. Instead, I took a journey and reinvented myself. I became a war reporter for CNN. Maybe I needed to feel like Rey, dressed in body armor, using my camera as a weapon for truth, justice, and a better world.

Becky Diamond
Embedded with U.S. forces in Iraq, November 2005.
Source: Becky Diamond

In war-torn counties like Afghanistan, Sudan, and Iraq, I met everyday people who did extraordinary things. Ayat Dut Ding, who lived in a small village in Southern Sudan, survived being kidnapped and raped by invading militias. She raised her daughter, born out of violence, with love and compassion. In Indonesia, three weeks after a tsunami killed her husband, Asmi Abedeen was rebuilding her business so she could support her three kids.

There were so many people from different cultures and backgrounds who shared our common story. They refused to give up. They persisted with determination and hope.

What Moses and Rey show us

Maybe that is what this year is teaching us. I can hear Moses urging us with confidence to keep moving forward into the unknown and Rey telling us that change will come. We have to trust in our resilience.

Rabbi Brous says this is the narrative of Passover. The story of the Jews didn’t end in the desert when the going got tough.

This year I took some hits. We all did. But our stories didn’t end with empty classrooms and closed cafés. Restaurant owners built outdoor structures. Kids are transitioning back to school. We have vaccines. We are stepping into another new normal.

 Becky Diamond
Participating in a family Passover seder. We are wearing masks that show the 10 plagues. April 2020.
Source: Becky Diamond

I feel grateful that Moses shows up each spring like an old friend, telling me through his story that whatever crisis I am in, I can, and we all can, fight for a better future.

Each Passover, I ask myself: Am I resilient because I am a Jew? No, I am resilient because I am human. This is what we do. It’s our story, but sometimes we need someone to remind us.

Sum it up

When we are caught up in painful or uncomfortable moments, they can feel never-ending. But it’s important to remind ourselves that tomorrow will bring new possibilities. Rabbi Brous says the Passover story tells people who are “walking through a dark or painful chapter or living in anguish, that we must have hope. Don't give up. Your story doesn't end here.”

Three ways to tell your story

1. Write it down.

Anthropology Professors Kate Mason and Sarah Willen started The Pandemic Journaling Project. Over 1,300 people have submitted written entries about their experiences. Dr. Mason, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Brown University, says, “People have a tremendous need to find meaning in what's happening in their lives, and the easiest way [to] express meaning is to tell it as a story.” Mental health experts say that writing down your feelings in any kind of journal can help you make sense of your emotions and improve your mental health.

2. Share your story with a friend.

Dr. Don Meichenbaum, the psychologist who wrote The Roadmap to Resilience, says the majority of people who experience adversity go on to build resilience. His research shows that when people talk about their painful experiences, they are more likely to experience positive psychological growth. He says, “It’s not that you have bad feelings; it’s what you do with those feelings.”

3. Get creative.

Dr. Shilagh Mirgain, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin who helps her clients build resilience, suggests doing something creative to express your emotions. She says, “We don't want those emotions to lock in or kind of get buried.” Drawing, meditating, and writing down your thoughts can help you make sense of your feelings and tell your story.

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