Last night we had dinner with some friends. Although we would like to see them more often, the opportunity is rare, so the four of us usually wind up talking for several hours while our wait-person twiddles her thumbs and wonders whatever we could be talking about.
Oh – Not much. We just solve the world’s problems, that’s all. We talk about politics and religion (the two big no-nos). We talk about life in America versus life in other parts of the world. (These friends are big travelers and have lived for extended periods of time in Europe and Asia). We talk about the creative life – (both of them are very gifted). We talk about family. In other words, we cover all the bases.
Last night we got to talking about movies. It was one of those situations where they would say, “And have you seen. . .?” And we would say, “No, but have you seen. . .?”. Finally I had to take out a pen and scribble down some titles on a napkin so I wouldn’t forget. (My mind is rather porous these days). While we were talking about movies, I realized that my taste in movies has changed quite a bit.
Back when I was in college, my favorite films were the ones by Ingmar Bergman. Of course, I had no money so I had to watch scratchy, blotchy copies on home movie screens set up in the basement of the dorm. You may have seen some of them, “Wild Strawberries”, “The Seventh Seal” – there were many, whose titles I no longer can remember. What I can remember is the darkness of the films. Looking back, they remind me of what Garrison Keillor refers to as the “Dark Lutherans”. There was a starkness to these films, a bleakness that always left me in an altered state. The one that stays with me the most is “The Seventh Seal” which was a movie about the black plague: A knight plays chess with Death in a futile attempt to save his life from the epidemic. It ends with a very famous image of Death leading the knight and his family into the sunset. It was eerie, beautiful, and depressing. Dark, dark, dark.
So anyway. Last night this friend and I were talking about movies, and we both agreed that nowadays we would rather watch films that enlighten and lighten – films that focus on the happier side of life. I think this is because after you’ve been on this planet for a while, you realize that you don’t have to seek out the dark side. It will find you. There is plenty of stuff out there to be sad about – all you have to do is turn on your TV, glance at the headlines, tune in to NPR on your way to work in the morning, or just overhear a conversation while waiting in line at the bank. In other words, you can’t avoid it. If I had never read a newspaper in the past two years I would still know the names of Scott Peterson and Lacy Peterson. I would still know why I know those names. And even if I put cotton in my ears, I would have to walk around with those images tattooed to my brain.
My friend is worried that by not exposing herself (deliberately) to the more weighty issues she will be “burying her head in the sand”. Well, to that I answer this. And suppose you did not bury your head in the sand. What, among the smorgasbord of catastrophes, could you personally change? The answer, it turns out, (and you have to have lived a few years to know this, too) is: precious little.
My wise therapist once reminded me that I should save my energy for something more constructive than wringing my hands over the political direction of the country. As he pointed out, “You have one tiny little vote.” And so it is with so many things. When you are confronted with something that upsets you, ask yourself if there is anything you can do to change it. If the answer is “No”, move on. If the answer is “a little”, go ahead and do it.
If the answer is, “A lot!” – Then by all means, go for it. But realize that you’re in for quite a battle and will probably deserve sainthood when it’s all said and done.
Meanwhile. Seen any “feel-good” movies lately? I highly recommend “Second Hand Lions”.
© 2004 Robin Munson