I expected there to be a lot of focus on relationships in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but the one between Quill and Gamora was not what caught my attention. Their romance is definitely touched on several times as an “unspoken thing” (and made fun of by Drax on more than one occasion), but the more important relationship in the story is between sisters Gamora and Nebula and the abuse they experienced as children.
Raised by Marvel’s looming villain, Thanos, both girls had a terror-filled childhood. They were forced to compete against each other and Nebula suffered severe pain at their father’s hand, losing literal pieces of herself when he was displeased with her abilities. Thanos pits them against each other and Nebula focuses her anger on Gamora instead of solely on the man who abused her, and it poisons the sisters’ relationship.
Suffering abuse can breed anger, and Nebula is “living” proof of that (she’s mostly robot at this point, after all). We are heavily impacted by the way we were raised and often take those methods to heart when we become adults. The physical and emotional abuse we experience can become tools we turn on others, and Nebula does so, doing everything she can to make her sister’s life miserable.
Nebula is out for vengeance, and she doesn’t care much who or what gets in her way. She doesn’t even seem concerned with her own life, recklessly crashing her ship in an attempt to destroy Gamora. Even after Gamora saves her life, Nebula relentlessly attacks, not letting up until she’s gained the upper hand. She has the opportunity to destroy her sister, but she doesn’t take it. Instead, she is finally able to confront her emotions and the cause of her pain.
“I just wanted a sister,” she says. She didn’t want a rivalry. She didn’t want to be on this path of anger towards her only family. She didn’t want to let the childhood abuse impact her entire life. She just wanted someone to teach her about the world, to be a role model of grace and strength to look up to, to be confidante and friend through the thick and thin of life. She just wanted a sister.
I don’t pretend to understand what the physical and emotional trauma that Nebula went through feels like. I was never a Nebula. I was always a Gamora (minus the green skin and the emotional abuse), working hard to be the quickest, fastest, and smartest to stay on top of life, sometimes not considering the people I impacted along the way. I have had a hard time understanding people with abusive pasts who consistently act in self-destructive ways, but Nebula’s story helps me see those behaviors in a new light. Her desire to have power over others was influenced by a father who wanted power over her.
The expression on Gamora’s face when she realizes how little she thought of Nebula during their childhood and how focused she was on simply surviving is full of regret, remorse, and love. Gamora cares about her sister, and because of her own emotional abuse and torment she endured, never realized how much Nebula needed her or, arguably, how much she needed Nebula. None of the abuse Nebula experienced is Gamora’s fault, and under their father’s thrall, I don’t think either were in a position to support each other. But they have the opportunity to reunite as sisters and forgive each other here.
Gamora continues to offer Nebula grace, mercy, and reconciliation, even though she knows Nebula will reject it. It would be so much easier to respond in anger and an unwillingness to accept Nebula as her sister; it would be so much easier to believe Nebula is lost and let her continue down a path of destruction. But she doesn’t. Though Nebula had been trying to kill her, Gamora saves her from the crashed ship anyway.
Galatians refers to a similar persistence: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (6:1-2). I admire Gamora for attempting to carry Nebula’s burdens — it’s hard to want to carry someone else’s burdens when they are so angry, when they push everyone away, when they are walking along a self-destructive path; but those are the people who need us the most.
Galatians reminds us we aren’t to go down the paths of the sinful, but we can gently turn them from evil and toward reconciliation. We extend a hand (green or otherwise) of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. However, we should be under no expectation that the harvest will be instant.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (6:9).
Sowing seeds of mercy into the life of someone so deeply hurt takes time. We can expect our hand to be slapped away many times over. But through the persistent kindness and compassion of Christ to see it through, we may make an eternal impact on the brother or sister who lies wounded before us.