summer, movies, and murder trials
Summer is in full swing!
A quick excerpt from the writing project which is occupying most of my pen time. Grace & Peace!
There are occasions when I don’t have the energy to allow a poem or prose to reach me. But a good movie can almost move me in ways that other art sometimes can’t. Call it spiritual spoon-feeding, but The Shawshank Redemption taught me powerful lessons on beauty and endurance. Casablanca taught me that we can release people and ideas when we are ready and that fresh starts often come in completely inexplicable forms. The lovely French film, Intouchables, taught me that subtitles are worth it sometimes. And the Italian masterpiece, Great Beauty, taught me that one doesn’t have to wait until the age of sixty-five to stop doing things one doesn’t really want to do.
Several of the most memorable movie scenes from my youth come from the Rocky franchise. Each film is anchored by a pinnacle fight in which Rocky is matched against some beast who by all appearances can’t be beaten. I would cover my eyes when the coach would lean over Rocky’s bloodied face and give him water, dry his brow, and maybe cut his eye to relieve the traumatic swelling. I resented the coach. Why wouldn’t he just grab Rocky by the shoulders and say, “Come on kid, we’re getting out of here!” Why would anyone stand by and let such brutality go forward when they had the power to stop it?
Life can feel an awful lot like that ring. Always moving your feet, dodging, hustling. Trying to stay in the fight and endure for another round. Oftentimes a terrifying opponent is giving you a run for your money. But if you’re lucky enough, you’ve got a team of people around you to help steer you in the right direction and maybe even a good coach to encourage you when the odds feel completely overwhelming.
And truth be told, I’m usually out there in the ring fighting myself than anyone else. But I’ve come to see that like Rocky’s coach, God always has an eye on me in the ring. But that doesn’t mean that I am magically going to get pulled out of the fight. A few bloody noses helped this finally sink in. It might be the same reason that I couldn’t appreciate tragic literature or the Psalter until I’d lived a little. Your heart has to have been stomped on before the blues make much sense.
My childhood faith experience is probably typical. Lukewarm at best, to the fault of none other than perhaps being too materially comfortable. I grew up in a military family. My stepfather raised me like I was his own. My mother taught me how to have a conversation and really listen. She was also an untreated alcoholic for many years. I was blessed with a mostly stable home life and consistent Republican theology, all while the Cold War loomed as an ominous backdrop in the formation of my sense of justice and grace. Pull the electric chair switch quickly, don’t make them suffer for God’s sake. Ronald Reagan held a place second perhaps only to St. Paul.
My dad laid a green flight suit just about every night alongside black leather flight boots. Lumbering strategic bombers gliding overhead were a thing of comfort. We moved every few years and I learned good manners and how to fit in quickly. One of the great things about growing up on base housing is that young military couples efficiently produce children. There were always kids to play with and I organically related to military culture.
The Cold War did not officially end until I was a middle schooler. Up to that point, it was understood that Lucifer himself had birthed the communist Russian people. Mind you, I never even met a Russian until I was an adult. And it is also probably noteworthy to mention that my dad chastised me more than once for frequently insisting that I be the commanding general in our neighborhood play battles. A boy on a military base knows what it means to be a sergeant or a general. But I also remember being drawn to God at a very young age and praying fervently to whatever it is that holds the cosmos together. I regularly edged myself to the corners of my bed as I fell asleep to make room for angels. How does a kid like that end up as a lawyer?
One significant turn occurred in my living room in the early 1990s. The Air Force had relocated us to a small Illinois town not far from St. Louis. One concession was that I would be starting high school as a new student just like everyone else. Not showing up in the middle of the school year was a small grace. And Belleville was big enough for a new Walmart. My freckled face was glued to the television screen as a white Bronco dodged traffic on a distant California highway. And while I couldn’t tell you the difference between a cornerback and a smokestack, everyone knew who OJ Simpson was. The famous football player was by all appearances responsible for the gruesome murder of his beautiful ex-wife and Ronald Goldman.
The Simpson trial was all the rage and seemed to consume the entire school year. Nearly everyone was drawn into the legal battle playing out in the national media. There were detailed descriptions of defense strategies and the judge's influence in the case. Simpson huddled with a small army of intense lawyers. The once powerful athlete exuded a mix of confidence and angst. That case singularly introduced me to the law. At least, what I thought the law was. It seemed obvious that only a crazy person would take on a big case without a lawyer.
Nearly twenty years since then, I’ve practiced law for a while and I’ve seen a few things. I remember not understanding why old people always seemed so exasperated when they said things like, “twenty years ago I did so and so; I cannot believe that much time has passed." I understand now. Furthermore, my opinion on what constitutes being old has changed.