Tales of Ba Sing Se: The Story of Uncle Iroh

(In order for this post to make sense, I’ll have to give you background. Thank you in advance for your patience.😁)

I watch a bit of Avatar: The Last Airbender. My sister got me into it. I like it well enough (though would recommend it carefully due to certain elements), but that’s not the reason I’m telling you this today. I want to talk about what got to me about a certain episode, and why.

In order to do so, I’ll very quickly summarize the important “who”s, “where”s, and “why”s. The fictional world is divided into four nations, each able to manipulate and use a natural “element”. Earth, air, fire, water. The fire nation has decided it is superior; they attacked, murdered, and enslaved most of the other nations. There is one legendary person who can defeat them, the Avatar, who is the only human who can use all four elements. The current Avatar is a boy who was frozen in ice for one hundred years— Aang. The plot follows him actually LEARNING to use all four elements (just because you can, doesn’t mean you innately know how to, it seems…), at least so far.

The Avatar is hunted by the prince of the Fire Nation, a young man named Zuko, who was scarred by his father over a difference of opinion in troop placement, and banished from his homeland unless he can return with the Avatar in tow. Zuko is accompanied by his uncle, a man named Iroh, the Dragon of the West, who has cared for Zuko since his own son died in the war.

At this particular point in time, Zuko is accused of another crime (besides the “treason” of disagreement—a crime he did not commit, if I remember correctly), and a bounty is placed on his life. He goes into hiding, all while questioning his loyalty to the Fire Nation and his motivations for chasing the Avatar. He and his uncle flee to the last Earth Nation stronghold for shelter, hidden among hundreds of refugees that do the same.

Yes, he really does act like a goofball sometimes. Bear with me.

Aang and his friends go and stay in the same city, Ba Sing Se, with information that could turn the tide on the Fire Nation. The events in this episode occur while they wait for an audience with the Earth King: most of the stories are fun little things, though a deep revelation comes to light about the location of a missing character, and Uncle Iroh’s story reveals more about his character than was previously shown.

So, now that you’re caught up, let’s dive in.

The story opens on Iroh, buying a picnic basket from a vendor for a “special occasion”. When the man suggests that a different color might be better for a romantic picnic, he assures the man that while he appreciates the effort for his special day, it’s not that kind of thing. Then, as he leaves, he pushes the man’s moonflower out of the sunlight, causing it to flourish and bloom.

Then, while shopping for a lute, he sees a small child wailing. He sings a lullaby and soothes the child, much to the relief of the child’s mother and all the passerby.

Leaves from the vine,
Falling so slow
Like fragile tiny shells
Drifting in the foam.
Little soldier boy
Come marching home—
Brave soldier boy,
Comes marching home.

After this, he’s held at knifepoint by a mugger… who, frankly, looks extremely inadequate and incapable. Iroh gently shows him a better stance (“You’ll get knocked over that way!”), then asks him why he’s doing this: after all, he doesn’t seem the type to be violent. The man then pours out his fears and ambitions to this unexpected listening ear, and Iroh brews him a cup of tea, and offers some advice (“If you want to be a masseur, I really think you could! Just keep in mind your business plan…”). The man thanks him, and off he goes.

As the episode closes, you see Iroh climbing a hill at the outskirts of town, and settle beneath a shady tree at the top. He sets up a small table with incense, and a picture of a young man. He spreads a picnic for himself and the picture, and then he speaks.

“Happy Birthday, Son. I only wish I could’ve done it for you.”

And that (besides making me bawl like a small child), reminded me of what Christ said in Matt 25:40— “Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.” He served others, he brightened their lives, and strengthened their walk, all because he loved someone else with so much love that it overflowed. It touched me greatly.

It’s not an isolated incident, either, as Uncle Iroh’s love and loyalty is shown over and over again throughout the series. Though he is often mocked for being an “old, fat fool” within the show, his character is unimpeachable. God does, indeed, choose the “foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise”. I did a little research: Iroh is, by far, the most popular character in the show… and frankly, I believe it’s for this reason.

Whether they wanted to or not, the creators showed an excellent picture of what Christian life is to look like: one of love and service, regardless of whether or not it looks honorable or exciting. Iroh endures (and actively does!) much for the love of his family. It doesn’t have to be anything big or spectacular: didn’t Jesus Himself say a cup of cold water would do it? (Matt 10:42) But in this hectic life, in this very visible world, we forget. We keep our eyes to ourselves. We don’t want to get involved. We don’t want to make waves, get in trouble, or we’re simply busy!

But Jesus asked us to sacrifice our time and comfort for those He loves— those we should love. He doesn’t do it without setting a good example, either. When He couldn’t get a moment in edgewise because people were pressing him to heal their families all day and all night. When He’d been preaching all day and His mortal body would’ve needed dinner, He fed 5,000+ people. Most importantly, He died on the cross.

If He could do that for those who actively hated him, then we should look for ways to show Christ’s love to others.

I’m not saying to forsake your duties or run your health into the ground to do so: He gave you those things for a reason, too! Start small. Look for the moments He’s provided. It’s anything from praying with and for someone you are close to, to offering the older lady your seat on the bus. It’s putting down my writing and playing the game with a lonely kiddo, or volunteering half an hour when Mom is tired but still has that list of things to do. It’s offering a water bottle to the dude (“Dude” is a deliberate word choice, in my neighborhood…) who is dealing with your trash on a sweltering day, or just rinsing the dishes that someone left behind without complaint. Giving up your chance to pick the television show. They are small but mighty choices that will glorify Him.

In closing: If a show with major roots in Eastern mysticism made me weep with such a clear picture of Christian love, how much more will Christ moving in us show the world His glory, His character, and the beautiful unity of His children? People are drawn to it, not knowing what it is: but we know. It’s the glory of our Heavenly Father shining through. And that’s a beautiful thing!

Go and be salt and light! Look for ways to bless others because you love Christ today. I will, too, and I’ll be praying for you, as well. 🙂

Progress: 1272 words, and some editing atop it. 😀
Next week, I’ll give you full info on The Trials, if you’re (still) interested!!

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3 thoughts on “Tales of Ba Sing Se: The Story of Uncle Iroh

  1. Oh goodness, I LOVE this. A:tLA is one of my favorite shows, and you put the exact reason why so beautifully into words here. General revelation is a thing, and it’s beautiful.
    Also, Leaves From the Vine is the saddest song ever. I think (may be wrong) that it’s based off of a Japanese song someone wrote about WW2… which adds a whole other layer of depth and tear-jerking beauty.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t know that about the song! *tears up a bit*

      I wish I could say that I had planned all these articles with the topic of general revelation in mind… but, sadly, I didn’t. I just call things out when I see them and they excite me. XD

      However, I’m right there with you. God’s beautiful creativity in revealing Himself is magnificent!

      Liked by 1 person

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