Last night I had an unexpected treat, a close friend invited me to the movies at the last minute...and then when there we ran into another friend so we all sat together and enjoy being immersed in images from India while watching one of the best films I have ever seen, "Slumdog Millionaire". It is easy to see why this film captured so many Oscar's, and they were indeed well deserved. I seldom go to the movies anymore because of the cost, but mainly because there just isn't much out there that I find interesting enough to want to go see. My friend and I had both talked about wanting to see "Slumdog" and for her it held special meaning, as she has traveled to India herself and I am sure the images brought back many memories for her of a special time in her life. This dear friend happens to have one of the softest hearts of anyone I have ever met, her ability to let life touch and move her is something I greatly admire.
Some who had seen the film before me had complained to me of the violence portrayed, which I too found unexpected and yet sadly very, very true-to-life. The saddest part is that here, in our cushioned American existence, we do not want to accept in our minds that the kinds of violent acts that were depicted on screen (and often much worse) are a daily part of life for many throughout the world. We are disturbed, we see it as "gratuitous violence" because we simply do not want to accept that for many people all around the globe, anger, hatred and racism can turn ordinary humans into maiming, killing machines. Interesting to me though is that we sit back and decry this as inhumane, and yet fail to see that our denial of the existence of such evil acts is just as inhuman. That's it...squeeze your eyelids shut just a little bit tighter and you will be able to convince yourselves that these things don't really happen.
The plot was ingeniuously laid out, playing back and forth between the present and the past, with explanations for a young man's knowledge of seemingly unrelated facts woven expertly into the fabric of his very difficult, traumatic life. Many might say this movie was not at all subtle, with its way of thrusting your face right into the life of the underprivileged. I, however, found lots of subtleties in the film, many layers of struggle of good versus evil, of the triumph of the human spirit.
It had a happy ending, and despite the terrible beginnings of our hero's life, we can see how his early experiences formed in him a strength that many of us would aspire to have. It also caused the viewer to take in what one might be forced to do to survive and how that conflicts with our perspective on what makes one a "good" person, and yet our "Slumdog" hero was definitely a young man with passion, courage and a core goodness despite having done many things that we would categorize as less than noble.
And isn't that essentially how we all are? Aren't we all struggling against our own demons, doing what we need to do to survive, and yet at our core isn't there a goodness in most of us? We may do things of which we are not proud, but that doesn't define who we are. We make mistakes along the way, we grow from them, we learn to be more compassionate due to those mistakes as we can better see how imperfection aflicts us all. It is when we hold ourselves and others to an impossible standard that we miss out on the decency and grace of others...and ourselves.
I also left with a sense of futility. Children throughout the world are digging through dumps for food, are orphaned, are neglected and abandoned, are living on the fringes of society...and they probably always will. Whether it be on the streets and in the slums of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, Haiti, Africa or yes, even here in the US...there are children who will grow up uncared for and unnurtured. And who loses in that deal? Is it the child? Yes, of course it is...but in many ways we fail to see it is we who are the bigger losers. When we don't act, we lose out on the opportunity to change a life as we often don't see how it changes our own as well. We lose out on the human capital that will never reach its full potential because it is left floundering in a garbage dump somewhere, or turns to drugs or prostitution.
Seeing stories depicted such as these causes a markedly different reaction in people. Some will turn away, saying "I don't want to see that, it is too disturbing, too uncomfortable". In others it creates a drive to act, to reach out and in some way try to be a catalyst for change. The Greg Mortenson's of the world do exist (the author of Three Cups of Tea), there are men and woman throughout the world who can not see such waste of human life and not step forward to try and do what they can to change the circumstances.
We can embrace the discomfort or we can hide from it.
For some of us, such images are all too real. For my friend, this was a reality she herself experienced and in conversations in the past I know it has never been forgotten, it changed her. For others such as myself, it is a life I can very well imagine my own children living in...children of mine who are not yet home and will find themselves turning to such lives of prostitution and crime in a mere 5 or 6 years. It causes a feeling of desperation to well up inside of me, and yet sadly, I also realize that these emotions are not likely to leave with the adoption of our daughters...for they will have escaped that fate but there will always be millions left behind who will not. It is but a drop of water in a dry ocean bed.
Our lives often take unexpected turns, and we learn a lot if we have hearts that are open enough to accept what we see.