Have you been back to the cinema yet? I sure missed them, especially during the early months of theater closures and uncertainty – but the past few months, we have enjoyed getting out once in a while to enjoy the ones that we considered a “must see” on the big screen. Sure, sometimes we were nearly alone, and we had to wear masks – but it was still pure magic, for this movie buff. Nightmare Alley, Dune, West Side Story – heck, I even enjoyed Spiderman and The Batman – and, most recently, Cyrano (which was truly a work of art, and heart). And now the Oscars are being voted on – the “buzz” isn’t what it used to be, our world is in turmoil and somehow the awards just aren’t really all that important, if they ever were. Still, I have a favorite (having seen about half the nominees, and the only half I wanted to!) …..
When we watched Belfast, filmed primarily in black and white, and set in the 60’s during the “troubles” between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, I was surprised by how much this very specific family story, from a region I have never known, still resonated with me about the passage from childhood into a bigger world. We identify with the emotions of the young boy caught up in events that shatter his small world, and make him see that his parents, his grandparents and friends and neighbors are not all that he thought. Sometimes, without even words, the images captured his becoming aware in a way that we all do, eventually, how events that seem routine suddenly change, and that our reliance on reality sometimes hangs by a thread. It is a gem of a film – and well worth seeing on the big screen, and hopefully to be recognized as such by the ages.
It also reminded me of a similar story – a different era, another continent, and yet – upheaval in small town where a child realizes their world is so much different than the bubble that has protected them, for a time. It is one of my husband’s favorite films, and a “classic” – so when the opportunity came for us to see it on the “big screen” at the Alamo Mission, we walked through the bustling neighborhood that seemed to be very different from the rest of our city, and entered the darkened room to again be drawn into a black and white vision. The music, the acting – and of course, the script adaptation by the not as well-known as he should be Horton Foote – somehow made the ugliness of many of the events in the narrative, contrasting with the innocence and hope of the children caught up in them, more dreamlike.
I speak of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, which is now in a somewhat reconstructed vision being presented on the Broadway stage. Scout, the young girl in depression Alabama, probably would empathize with Buddy, the 9-year-old whose family faces danger – and loss – in Belfast. Both learn to deal with death – and wrongdoing, and injustice. The choices that families must make to balance survival with stability, in the face of circumstances beyond their ability to impact – much as the families of Ukraine are challenged with as I write. The realization that the stories they were read at night, the songs and games they played, are not enough to answer the questions that growing up will bring. On reflection, one shared observation from both films is how traumatic, and suddenly, childhood can shift from the cocoon of safety to the dawning awareness that life is more complex, and dangerous, than we imagined. But there is also a kind of resilience even in young children that comes from some inner place to pull us through – although, sadly, not always.
As Atticus, the father in To Kill a Mockingbird, says to his son Jem when confronted with racism and injustice – “There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ‘em all away from you. That’s never possible.” When the grandmother in Belfast watches as her son’s family leaving their home forever, while she remains to mourn her husband (sorry, spoiler there!), we know that Buddy is facing truths that he never had imagined just a few months prior. Innocence can never remain untouched – but wisdom can grow from loss and hope arise from disappointment.
Both films brought up memories of childhood moments for me, as well. As I have continued to comb through my stacks of family records and photos, I recently came across my elementary school “class photos” from the 60’s – kindergarten through third grade. In a moment of perhaps inspiration, I turned to Facebook and over the course of a few weeks reconnected for the first time with many of the children in those pictures – some who were in my classes all the way through high school. I learned of events in their lives – as to be expected, most had married or had children, and grandchildren; some were accepting of what I shared of my life since high school, but some closed me off, and I needed no explanation why. But as I looked at the faces, remembering some names, and others not recognizing at all, I reflected on how much we had all shared, and even though our paths differed, how alike our lives were in many ways – a group of children in a small town, now scattered elsewhere, some remaining fast friends and others lost to time. It touched me when one classmate I was able to meet in person with after 45 years shared that, more than once, my name had come up and some had wondered what had become of me – it somehow gave me a little sense that perhaps I had belonged, even then, more than I was able to realize or accept.
Now, spring emerges in our world, again. Seasons flowing into one another, a rhythm in the earth itself that echoes deep in our souls. We perhaps mistakenly see our lives as a linear process – certainly we move through it that way, consciously. We think of our stories in stages – childhood, adolescence, adulthood, parenthood and more. But a portion of our heart remains forever young, a little piece that still looks out the door on a Saturday morning anxious to jump on a bicycle and explore, meet new friends, embrace joy and spontaneity. Whether a young girl living in depression era American south, or a boy struggling to understand why his neighbors are turning on one another in 60’s Ireland – or the children of Ukraine today being torn from their homes and families without knowing why – these moments awaken our hearts. Our hearts that somehow exist beyond the reach of time, and even throw off the limitations of age itself.
Listen to that little voice in your being, wanting to be heard, waiting to tell you secrets and hopes that still long to be birthed in your tomorrows. Our growth – maturing, or moving towards it – never really ends, even after a lifetime of missed opportunities – we just need to be open to the possible that our world taught us to question and set aside. That lost inner fountain of joy can still stream freely, the journeys that begin with curiosity and the possibility of new discoveries, and even the strength to deal with the shock of the unexpected with a kind of faith that, beyond the immediate, there is a better day ahead. The songs and games we played as children are still echoing in our souls, and a smile can break out unexpectedly, if our hearts let us keep a small bit of room for those moments when we need them most. Just as children need parents, our adult consciousness needs to reach out to those little ones inside our hearts to find our way; to join our hands, and together walk toward the future together. We need one another, now more than ever. Perhaps, soon, you can invite them to join you, and discover again that which has been awaiting you ever since once upon a time.