Friday, August 31, 2012

"Hope Springs"

I hadn't thought about her for years, but since seeing "Hope Springs" recently, she's in the forefront of my memories.  Her name was Jane. I say was because, although I lost track of her,I know she's deceased.  If there is a heaven, she surely has made it.

Jane was 30 years my senior. Soft-spoken,serene, raised a Quaker, she moved through the world with a quiet charm and grace. She gave meaning to a word we didn't use to describe people in the 70's - she was grounded.

I wasn't grounded. One year after a painful and contentious divorce, I vacillated between anger and anxiety. Jane welcomed me, not with pity, but with compassion and an appreciation for skills and expertise I felt had abandoned me.  As we worked together to produce a critical thinking course for a pre-adolescent religion class, she became my anchor, a touchstone for calm and reason. I so admired and respected her. And I envied her - with a capital E.

Jane was married to a well-respected and well-love physician who obviously respected and loved Jane. Greeted her with open affection. Had a pet term of endearment. Touched her frequently. Listened attentively. Everything I had wanted in a husband, and didn't have.

One afternoon, sharing a glass of wine with them in their beautiful and comforting home, I confessed my envy.  There was a quick glance between them, a smile, a nod.  "Oh, honey, it hasn't always been this good."  They then proceeded to give me a quick synopsis of the rocky road they had traveled to get to the state of wedded bliss I was privileged to observe.

A tumultuous road. Nearly divorcing three times until their grown children, weary of the perpetual angst, called for a family intervention - another term uncommon in the 70's!
Their message, their demand - figure out what it takes to be happy together or divorce and get on with life.

With the help of a good therapist, (I now picture Steve Carrell), Jane and Doc came to realize that they carried so much baggage because they had never learned to fight well. Oh, they "discussed" things, increasingly argued, but their arguments were never resolved to  their mutual satisfaction. Usually, it seemed, to Doc's satisfaction. So, after almost 40 years of marriage, raising 4 children together, steeped in Quaker tradition, Doc and Jane learned to fight to a mutually safisfying conclusion.

By their accounts, they learned the hard way - by finishing the old arguments.  Jane, with a twinkle in her eye, illustrated by pointing out the pock marked fireplace, bearing the battle scars of a complete set of dishes destroyed in a fit of frustration and with a dose of satisfaction. Left unrepaired to remind them of their commitment to be happy together. Whatever it took.  Recalling that scene I still smill. I still sit in awe of that level of commitment.

Commitment is what I think "Hope Springs" is about. Not the humor conveyed in the publicity trailers. Although there are comedic moments, this is most definitely not a comedy.
Not even the sexual frustratrations of a long and increasingly unfulfilling marriage. Although the sexual difficulties are the emphasis of the movie, and heads up, there are a couple scenes that could be uncomfortable.  At the heart of this drama is a couple who, like Doc and Jane make a commitment to finally learn how to be happy together. Whatever it takes.

So, I enjoyed "Hope Springs".  I'm pretty sure not everyone would.  It has, in fact, received mixed reviews. I doubt it will earn the amazing Meryl another Oscar nomination. But it is a courageous film, calling for vulnerability on the part of the cast and the audience.  It is a mature film.  Certainly thought provoking. Asking not what it takes just to stay married, but the level of commitment to be happily married.

And who knew that Tommie Lee Jones could be a romantic hero?  Hope springs!

Friday, August 17, 2012

How Quickly We Forget

A sign of the times? With the exception of a few guest appearances on TV by some Olympic gold medalists, the games are "last week's news." All the hoopla, the real and fabricated rivalries, the daily medal count, the endless commentary, the dissection of each performance, the statistics, the broken records - over. The pomp and circumstance, like the flame, extinguished.

I do love the Olympics, especially the summer Olympics, but not for any of the above. Rather, it's the human element that grabs and holds my interest. The individual stories of dedication, discipline, and drive. Dreams realized and dreams crushed. Arrogance and humility side by side. The commitment of not just the athletes, but their families, and coaches, and communities. The incredible sacrifice for the sheer possibility of - in most cases - simply participating.

So, the two moments from these games that I place in my album of Olympic memories have nothing to do with gold medals or broken records. Not even anything to do with US athletes, but rather with two individuals whose names I can't recall, and in the case of one of them, the country she represented.

The first, the young South African runner, competing in a semi-final heat, finishing last, but finishing - on prosthetic blades he's worn since losing both legs as a child. Cheered on by the crowd and embraced by the winner, it didn't matter that he finished last. He finished. And realized his dream of competing against able-bodied runners in the Olympics and making it to the semi-finals. No medal, no beating his chest, no self-congratulatory boasts. Just humble acknowledgment, satisfaction, and appreciation.

The second image - one I caught accidentally. A young female runner, the first woman representative of her Arabic nation. No skin tight leotard for her. Again, finishing last, but finishing. Her own record, though. The first woman - from an Arabic nation!

I've thought about these two young people often this past week. About their courage, persistence and tenacity in the face of overwhelming obstacles, obstacles most Americans can't imagine. Driven, not by gold medals or breaking records, or potential endorsements, but by some inner desire to do their personal best. And in doing so, accomplishing what so many would consider impossible.

I'm chagrined by my ruminations over how to spend my summer. So thank you, wherever you are, for your inspiration.  For reminding me, once again, that what I complain about or fret over is often merely inconvenient or uncomfortable!