I awoke late this morning, having enjoyed some much-needed sleep. It’s been a particularly busy last few weeks, few months actually, with many, many good things to enjoy but less time for rest. So that combined with what has seemed like a never-ending litany of atrocities globally and domestically has worn me down a quite a bit – and left me awake in the dark hours of the night wondering how we’ve gotten to this place and what we, what I actually, can do to change the path.
After rising finally at 11 am, after a few earlier awakenings, I decided to turn on the TV as I ate a bowl of Honey Nut Chex. It had been preset to a movie channel and one of my favorite movies, “Philadelphia,” was on, but in its last few scenes. They’re some of the most beautiful in the film. Of course I had to watch.
I remember well when this movie debuted in the early 90s and how it addressed so much that was not part of the everyday experience for many families. For me, it humanized what many viewed in fear in so many positive, caring ways, while still exposing the far uglier side of fear and the manner in which that we fear is often treated. I think now about how 23 years later, how much has changed, yet how little in terms of how we view and treat each other. I would have thought a movie like this, just as one about racism to be footnotes in our lives at this point in time; valuable lessons to be learned from, but the fears, prejudices, abuse and violence to be a distant image our rearview mirrors.
Sadly, that’s not so.
What struck me this morning, but even more so back then, was the powerful love within the main character’s family and the acceptance that came within the structure of that love. That didn’t mean there weren’t fears, or misunderstandings, but the love and care they had for each other overcame that. I remember thinking back in 1993, with four children, one an infant, that no matter what came our way, I fervently hoped as a mother I would always have the unrelenting, all-encompassing love I saw in that film – and if I did, my family could conquer anything that came our way. I still believe that to be true – not just for myself, but for everyone too. If love is the foundation, and acceptance and support for each other is the goal, we can see whatever happens through together. It doesn’t make it easy, or any less painful at times, but we do it together and it’s unconditional.
In putting this in greater context to what we see around us, I have to wonder, how much do we truly want to see this life through together, as a community, as a society, as a country and as the world? We are all global citizens and our best interests aren’t just centered on what suits our lives most, but what suits all of our lives.
I keep thinking back to the days after 9/11 and how our country pulled together, yet as we pulled together, we also hunkered down in safety, insulating our lives with many of the things that we hadn’t been as drawn to prior. We felt safer in our own homes, opting for larger and larger screen televisions rather than going to the cinema. We brought home-prepared meals instead of dining out for quite a while. While friends and family were part of that world – in many ways we lived more and more virtually, spending more time online and engaging in social media rather than authentic experiences. We did our best to insulate our lives against the potential dangers that outside world brought – and never really considering that it showed up at our doorsteps nevertheless. And now the 24/7 media firestorm, along with social media, infiltrates our every waking moment, if we let it. It speaks to our insecurities, feeds our fears and fires up volatility in ways I’ve seldom seen before.
One of the most important things I’ve learned over the years is that few matters are black and white. There are subtle shades of gray that always must be considered, and those are the parts of the conversations we somehow don’t want to address. Some matters particularly bring up a strident sense of right and wrong, black and white, my way or the highway and anyone with a differing opinion or who simply questions an issue is seen in this black/white view. You’re with me or you’re not seems to be the mindset, and if you question it at all, you’re vehemently opposed. That’s not the way to find answers, nor is it the way toward a path of resolution.
When our backs are to the wall, with no room for other thoughts, there’s no avenue for compromise, no true desire for resolution – it’s more about being right. I’m not naïve. We operate under fear; under the desire to make decisions that we feel are right not only for ourselves, but also those we love. We often think what’s right for us is the best for everyone. That’s a shortsighted viewpoint, but it’s one many hold.
I go back once again to “Philadelphia,” and the very last scenes, when the main character passes away and family friends gather for a memorial. This is so skillfully filmed, with multi-generations together, so many different people providing support and love. There are new babies gathered close, small children with no idea why they’re even there that day – they just know they’re together with family. Candles are lit, photos displayed. Tears are shed, hugs and consolation given. On a television, a video plays. We see the man, who just died, as a young child, with his siblings, with his parents, with the family pet – a beautiful child, like every beautiful child we all once were. When you look at that child, you can’t help but smile and want the very best for him. He’s precious.
We often hear when someone is the victim of violence, whether it is murder, rape, assault, whatever it was – that was someone’s child. We’re asked to consider how we’d feel if it was our sister, our mother, our child that this happened to; would our feelings be different in how the situation was handled? The problem is this: It’s always someone’s sister, mother, brother, father – it’s always someone’s child that has been treated in this way, always. While the question is meant to make us really see the victim through the lens of our own life, I have to hope it’s meant to bring empathy to others who we aren’t personally connected with.
And here’s what else I hope: that we can start looking at what’s happening around us with a broader view – to realize that there’s more to each situation than how it personally affects us. Let’s share that and be open to starting new conversations. If we don’t, we can only expect more of the same and perhaps worse. This is in our hands. We’re better than this.