So Shines a Good Deed

As we prepared our Date Night dinner, Josh Groban’s version of “Pure Imagination” started playing on our Amazon music station, bringing to mind “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” the movie for which it was written. Cliff said, “we must see it again,” and Jon agreed, saying “let’s watch it tonight!” And so, despite having set up an evening campfire on a clear, mild night, we settled ourselves in front of the television to spend some time with an old friend.

We love this movie for many reasons, among them are the many literary quotations Wonka uses throughout the film. His line, “So shines a good deed in a weary world,” is inspired by a line spoken by Portia in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” In the play, she says, “How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” In other words, a small noble act, like a lone candle, seems to shine more brightly in a darker place. It is more precious — and also more dire.

In the film, Wonka is surrounded by liars, cheats, and self-obsessed narcissists — people who only want to take and consume rather than give and create and nurture. Although the movie was made nearly 50 years ago, it remains remarkably relevant today.

The hallmark of strong people isn’t their ability to fight or overpower others, but to calmly and confidently withstand the aggressiveness of those who would do harm. Wonka’s manners exemplify how powerful, but decent, people should conduct themselves. He is wealthy, witty, and wise. He has every advantage over those around him. Yet, he never brags or bullies or belittles. Rather, he shows his strength through his calm, confident demeanor, his decency, and his respect for others’ autonomy.

We live in a weary world, to be sure. It’s filled with suffering and setbacks and sin. And we have a hard time imagining that one individual can make a difference. But, time and again, we’ve seen that one person can make a difference. Our good deeds do shine in our weary world, because they aren’t limited to just the deeds themselves. They extend beyond the deeds to inspire other good deeds.

Every day, we have the opportunity to be like Willy Wonka — to show kindness, patience and generosity. Sure, he was a fictional character — a figment of Roald Dahl’s pure imagination. But is it really such a fantasy to think we could all be a little more like Willy Wonka?

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.