Over the holidays, and to help celebrate my time away from the office, I spent some time watching movies, or more correctly, watching parts of movies. The only new movie (meaning: a movie I hadn't seen before) I watched over the holidays was "Miss Potter," the story of children's book author Beatrix Potter. I didn't know much about her other than the fact that her stories delighted my children for a few years. Turns out she was a little more complicated than I thought and much more independent than one might have imagined given the climate of her time.
But nothing in that movie made me cry. No, the ends of two other movies did that for me: the very end of the original "Rocky" (if you can believe that) and the end of "The Color Purple."
It's true: I tear up when Rocky stands in the midst of the mayhem in the boxing ring at the end of the match and calls out for the woman he loves. Both Rocky and Adrian are depicted as "losers," with Rocky eking out a living as the muscle for a loan shark in Philly and Adrian working in a dingy pet shop, hiding in the shadow of her formidable and domineering brother. Each of them have very little in terms of material things - in fact, they personify the working poor - and even less to celebrate in a personal way, until they meet each other. The vulnerability they show as they begin their relationship and the fact that these two lonely and sympathetic characters learn to love each other makes the end of the film very touching, at least to me. So I tear up every single time.
And then there's the end of "The Color Purple." Everything about those final scenes is perfect. The flowers, the fields, the colors, the characters scattered about on a gorgeous sunny afternoon, and the brilliant colors of the African garb that waves in the breeze when Celie's family steps out of their car. All of it is gorgeous and moving, and the my emotions begin to well up within me when Celie's sister, Nettie, introduces her to the grown children she never knew. But nothing gets to me as much as the shot of Albert, Celie's estranged husband, walking in the field next door. After years of fostering the separation of the women, he somehow learns what is right, what is just, and his actions are behind the reunion that means so much to everyone involved. And I'm wiping my eyes every time.
And I had one more tearful moment this holiday season, but this one came courtesy of real life, not film. It was on Sunday, December 28, when I learned of the accident involving the Parkland students and recent graduates. Two of the boys are our neighbors, including Josh, who died as a result of the accident. Garrett is home and recuperating but it will be many weeks before he is fully recovered. One of the other boys sits with two of my sons at lunch and they were horrified to hear he was in the group and badly injured as well.
I cried at this news. News of any accidental death as a result of a car crash is tragic - but this was happening only two doors away from us. To a group of kids who planned to do nothing more than spend an evening together at the movies. On the same foggy night my oldest son left the house to pick up his girlfriend and go out to dinner. The difference is that they both arrived home safely at the end of the evening - courtesy of providence and nothing more.
I've tried very hard over the years to remind myself that all of today's hassles and annoyances that come with raising children will not last. The missing term paper, the practice that isn't happening for the weekly voice lessons, the scraps of information you have to beg for in order to know what's going on anywhere with anyone - as aggravating as all of it is, it doesn't last. What will last is the relationship - good or bad - that we build with our children.
I hope they know that even when I'm angry, I love them. I hope they know that loving people sometimes anger each other. That I'm far from perfect and I don't expect perfection from them. And that when I insist on a hug goodbye as they leave, and I murmur yet another in my series of "be carefuls" in their ears, or when I ask for a phone call if they're going to be late, it isn't just to be annoying, or because I think they're babies or because I don't trust them. I'm thinking positive but also listening to the tiny little scary voice that whispers about "what might be" should the universe turn against us one night.
You can't control the world. You can't really control the actions of your children when they reach a certain age. You can't even control the scary voice in your head. You can only hold it at bay, one night at a time. And when the scary voice turns out to be telling the horrible, unspeakable truth one night - like it did for some parents on Sunday, December 28 - you can only cry.