Jon and I haven't been too proactive in finding a church home close to Serenbe. We have a close group of friends who we pray with and I always know the Interfaith group will welcome me. I really enjoyed attending that until one time, the topic was something I fear the most - death. I'll admit, it scared me off. The group is filled with people from many walks of faith and their views on death vary greatly. Part of me wants a cookie-cutter "this is for certain what happens and there is no other answer" heaven and hell answer, but the other part of me is okay with just not knowing exactly what happens - although I do believe we evolve in some way. The latter can actually be freeing for me, especially during hard times when I suffer the most. When it all boils down to it, I think of myself as a spiritual being. I believe in God, but I'm not a strict Baptist Christian. The reason for that is because I've felt shunned at times while listening to a Baptist preacher condemn alcoholics, homosexuals, the lost, the damned, or the mad. I can't do that. My heart is just so full and tender. I know I'm a sinner, we all are, so I cannot judge. Much to my family's possible disapproval, I have identified greatly with Buddhist teachings and my favorite conversations about faith involves Jon speaking of the stars and the moon and creation and the beauty of life in nature. He can speak of it so abstractly, yet it feels so real. His faith is simple. Mine - at this point in my life - is complicated and I'm not afraid to admit I don't have it all figured out.
Speaking of faith, Jon and I saw a beautiful movie Thanksgiving night. As many families were winding down their festivities and the crescent moon peaked out from behind the trees, Jon and I hopped in the car to catch the last screening of the film The Better Angels in Midtown Atlanta. We were the only ones in attendance, but I think we gave it a delicate farewell. The narrative presents the life of young Abe Lincoln in a loose, I'll say vulnerable, structure. By no surprise, it is produced by Terrance Malick and moments ring true to his personal aesthetic. However, the filmmaker, A.J. Edwards, brings forth his own unique characteristics. In his debut feature, he beautifully melds swooping camera movements (in and out of trees, through meadows) with subtle, still, steady shots (wind in the trees as a gateway to heaven, water running down a stream) that will leave you breathless. The film is narrated by the older version of Abe's cousin, Dennis Hanks, who moved in with Abe's family when his own passed away. Presented in black and white, the film is a poetic meditation on the hardships and struggles faced in the 1800s by our ancestors. The audience witnesses a young Abe as he is crafted and shaped into the great leader he will one day become. The film attributes this transformation to two angels in his life.
"God tells us truths in parables" ~The Better Angels
Abe's mother, Nancy, is portrayed brilliantly by one of my favorite actresses (and talented director/writer) Brit Marling. She is ethereal and evocative as the first angel in young Abe's life. The narrator speaks softly of her, telling us that she put her faith, not on earth, but in what lies yonder. Tragically, she passed away when Abe was only eight from a milk sickness. His father, Thomas, married again soon after to a woman named Sarah, played by the beautiful Diane Kruger. As a widow, the marriage is more of an arrangement necessary to meet the every day needs of people during these times. At first, Abe is unsure of the new woman in his life, afraid she will strive to replace his mother. Sarah carefully wins him over, as she too recognizes something special in this young boy who drifts, loves to read, and ponders within nature.
Since our screening, I have thought often upon these two strong angels and researched their lives in more detail. I am fascinated by their faith. Really by the faith of all who endured such strenuous hardships during this time in America. I think often upon their small triumphs - the crop thriving, gathering enough clean water, living through a minor illness - and think of how we live today in America. Back then, they were lucky to live into their 30s. Happy to have a four wall structure with a roof over their heads. They faced sickness and death often. They were brave because they had to be brave. I don't know if it is any comfort to others, but contemplating past lives makes me feel very human, and somehow makes me feel better. Less alone. All in all, The Better Angels is a beautiful reflection upon childhood, faith, and spirituality. The slow pace and lack of plot is not for everyone, but for those who are more welcoming, it will leave an immense impact on your soul. This kind of film is right up Jon's alley - everything about it is what he wants to create and I was thrilled to screen it with him! If you're wondering, this is now our number 1 movie of the year and it will be a tough one to beat!
A poster with this image now hangs in our living room - a cherished keepsake for Jon. Thank you to Midtown Arts Cinema owner who searched for it in the store room and gifted it to us!
So, what else is on my mind this Sunday morning? Well, I happened to catch Oprah's Super Soul Sunday with one of my favorite authors and spiritual leaders, Pema Chodron. In New York, per a brilliant instructor's recommendation, I read her book When Things Fall Apart. Through the years, and through my struggles, I have often returned to it's teachings and I highly recommend every one read it. I keep it by my bedside. Pema said in her interview that when we are suffering, it is best to first identify it in our body, then breath in deeply to that area. With each in breath, our heart will grow. I remember, when Jon was first hospitalized, before he was diagnosed, lying in a small waiting room. It was closed off and had no windows. I would go in there and lie down around 3am in the morning when I couldn't sleep. I'd call my mother and Aunt Joyce and cry out to them. They wanted to help and would send me love, but nothing could rid me of the wretched pain and loneliness I felt. I'd wail over and over until my stomach would flip and I'd reach for the trashcan and dry heave. These, my friends, are the ugliest moments in your life. Moments you want to share with everyone and no one at the same time. Deep and utter pain. Pema teaches us that these moments are crucial to every human beings life. They are, in fact, what make us human. She says that if you breath in deep enough, you will feel the pain felt by all those in the world present, who came before you and who will come after. Suffering, along with joy, is just another thread in the tapestry of our life. Heady, I know, but it all relates back to the angels of Abe Lincoln's life.
As a last thought before I close, I want to remind everyone that no matter your situation, we are all surrounded by guardian angels every second of the day. Jon and I have many, many angels who have brought light into otherwise dark moments. For them, we are so grateful. Grateful beyond measure. From those who supported us as we got married and gifted us with a beautiful, unforgettable ceremony to those who help us financially, from those who offer kindness and encouragement to those are silently praying, we are blessed and surrounded by love. We don't always know who gives us gifts or who helps us out, but we are so very thankful for them. Their love inspires us to pay it forward and we are thinking of ways we can do so. As we all get caught up in the season, let us remember that the gift of love and kindness is the most important one of all!
Black and White photo inspired by The Better Angels and Nirvana: a short film about cancer.
I'll close with a reminder that this is the last day of November - Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Of course it isn't for us, in fact we have scans and radiation next week. Our struggles, along with so many others, continues. Please keep us, and all in the lung cancer community, in your prayers going forward. Jon and I were blessed with a most wonderful Thanksgiving and our spirits are high. We are decorating for Christmas, watching favorite movies and tv shows, and enjoying long reading sessions. (I'm still reading This is Where I Leave You and he just started The Homesman, which is now a movie directed by Tommy Lee Jones). I hope you all had a blessed Thanksgiving and are doing well!