As I got ready to go walk last night, the clouds began to gather just west of our house. I don’t like being out in stormy weather, maybe at the far end of my route when the rain and lightning start. I also really needed the walk. I made a compromise with myself, got in the pool, started walking in the shallow end and listened to another marvelous podcast with Krista Tippet who was interviewing Jane Gross about the “Far Shore of Aging”. Walking through water slows you down, I don’t have a fancy gizmo to keep my iPhone from getting wet so I had to strain to hear the conversation, stop sometimes and improvise ways to keep moving so I could still listen. I’m not sure when it happened but at some point, the listening reached across into prayers for my friend Carolyn, and her mother June. Carolyn is rowing her mother to that shore and I am humbled to get to be her friend through this time.
I am slowly plodding through a grant application process that is hugely important to our school success program at El Centro. I have been doing some hard work related to the future of the NRRM and today I have to take another major step. I could, maybe should, be working on one or the other of these responsibilities. Instead, I find myself reflecting on bravery, courage and heroism. As I prayed for Carolyn and June, I kept coming back to those words. That in turn got me thinking how my understanding of those words has changed.
I’ve been introduced to three TV series that I would never have made myself available to before: The Walking Dead, Firefly and Dr. Who. Sherod is quite disgusted with me—taking risks with these programs when I have steadfastly refused to watch TV programs like Deadwood with him in the past. I don’t know how to explain that getting into these series goes along with getting a paddleboard and allowing myself to stand where there is no firm ground beneath me. My mom was one of the most anxious, fear-filled persons imaginable. That’s infectious. These are some small, safe attempts to face into the fear and put it in a different place in my life. I’m getting exposed to some fine TV, occasionally amazing eye-candy and finding it oddly reassuring that I can sit through some pretty horrifying zombie attacks. It strikes me that one of the leit motifs of all three series has to do with the heroism that is clearly on display because the themes of all three are so epic.
On Saturday, I went back and watched Lost In Translation from the beginning. It’s one of the movies I’ve watched several times since it first came out in 2003 and Sherod and I got to go see it at the theater. In those days, things were hard with Maria so getting to go to the movies was quite out of the ordinary for us. That it was a finely crafted movie that I loved gave it a special place in my heart. I’ve been thinking about how different it is from this new, minor addiction of mine. In a nutshell, the two protagonists, Bob and Charlotte, are as dislocated and disoriented by their own lives as they are by the fact that they find themselves in Tokyo, jet lagged and suffering terrible insomnia. If there is anything epic in this movie it is their individual loneliness and isolation.
It’s hard to say that either of them is brave, much less heroic. As the movie unfolds you see these two people, both of them married to other people, strike up a friendship that keeps edging closer and closer to something both much more trite and clichéd, and at the same time, more beautiful, more mysterious, deeper. How will he or she or any of us acknowledge a truth about ourselves when it is very complicated, carries seeds of great pain and and can ripple awful consequences out far beyond our own aches and disappointments in life? Sometimes, the most we can do is name such a truth to our own selves and carry our small and shining epiphany with gentleness and care, not needing to know or do anything more than that.
In this particular movie, the protagonists accomplish what rarely happens—they find there is a way to honor both what’s real about their chance meeting and the commitments and larger story of each of their lives. This isn’t the stuff heroes are made of. But I think it’s fair to say that there is something brave about not quitting on those difficult truths that could cause great damage, but that carried honestly and responsibly, allow us to see the cosmic, stellar, epic beauty of what it means to be a person. I think there’s a paradoxical integrity as well: we are the sum of all those pieces that don’t quite fit together and those that do. In these middle years I find that there’s a way to accept, and sometimes celebrate, that this precisely, is our life.