I enjoy a well-made movie. Not the action movies, where movement implies life and one lives vicariously through the somewhat unlikely deeds of a fictional ‘hero’, nor the special effect extravaganzas, where art enhances life to such a degree that one can never hope to meet its sparkly, almost viscid glory. But the movies where humanity is painted in broken, harsh, and crooked strokes across the celluloid canvas… where, in lakes of tears, or rivers of laughter, or mere droplets of blood, a sense of empathy is instilled with such gentle force as to wipe from one’s mind the thought that ever do we live as self-contained entities in this world.
I get lost in such movies. Not so much choosing a character to ‘become’, rather, empathizing with every character encountered… the myriad parts of me stepping forward as the story unfolds to whisper quietly, ‘Yes, I know that feeling.’ To say with my own gasps, my own tears, my own heart-clenching sense of feeling that moment, ‘Yes… I understand completely what you are telling me.’
Sometimes I wonder if I spend too much time comparing and identifying with the world around me. Sometimes, I wonder if so much attention to feeling and thinking are foolish. I remember September 11, 2001, the conference I was heading, the stiff suits and politics and quiet desperation of people with all manner of perspectives, sitting in a room attempting to find common ground… and I think about the irony that for three days, and for all the time before that, it never quite occurred to us that we were already standing on it.
But, to stand together and watch exploding glass, to watch lives ending ‘live and in real time’, suddenly the feeling of it beneath our feet was not only something of which we immediately were aware, but it was such a ready and easily accepted one that it boggled me how little notice we pay it, or what little acknowledgement we give it in the every day struggle to individuate ourselves from the world.
It occurs to me that we live at cross-purposes. On the one hand, driven by our ego and inherent sense of self-worth (or the lack thereof) to seek notice, to seek recognition, to say to the world, ‘Look at me, I matter.’ Or perhaps, ‘Notice this thing I give to the world that no one else can.’, and on the other, such resolute avoidance of the simple reality that any uniqueness we possess is grounded in the encompassing similarity with the rest of the world. Paradox. And within the conundrum, we simmer like kernels in hot oil – until it seizes us and propels us upward, away from the common ground, to explode with one, fierce cry as we give our hopes and dreams of being the best of us to the empty beyond.
So much of our world demands we must be the same, and yet, within that edict, so much battle for the miniscule degrees of difference permitted with ‘sameness’… we become lost in the detail, within the etiquettes of distinction that somehow set us on the course of life-long discontent. And all the while, the singsong contrariness of society, set against itself, ‘Be different. Prove to ‘us’ you are deserving of notice, but only in ways that do not challenge our sameness.’ I find it remarkable that we remain sane. Frankly, I question if we do, for how can one embrace the paradigm of paradox and remain so?
I cry during the most innocuous of movies. I cried when I visited the Statue of Liberty. I cried when my daughter won her first scholar award in grade school. I cry when I see a rainbow. I cry when I see someone in pain. I cry when I see an ambulance parked outside someone’s house, red strobes warning the area that death is near… I cry both because I understand and because I do not. I cry because I am human and there are some things too real and true and beautiful and the only honor I can give them is my tears.
But mostly, I cry during movies. Because of all the places I cry, it seems to be the only place or time where explanation is not required.
Sometimes, I cry because the explanation is ever required.
I’m crying now. Do you understand why? More importantly, are you crying too?