Seeing with Fresh Eyes

This weeks UPI column

So There I was...

at the movies. I have a friend visiting from out of town, way out of town, as in, from Bujumbura, Burundi, Central Africa. This friend is a director of an organization whose goal is to heal Central Africa from t he effects of genocide, mass torture and wholesale rape. He has a potential clientele of 22 million, and fourteen centers and a staff of 40 to work with.

He is an optimist.

He is here on a working tour; an NGO conference at Harvard followed by a fundraising tour. I have never known a smarter, harder working, more practical or sophisticated individual. He speaks five languages. His English is better than that of 50% of Americans.

But when he gets a break he likes to take in a comedy – the simpler the better – physical humor, site gags, shtick, middle school boy’s locker room jokes. When he works he really works, but when he laughs he really laughs. He knows that it is healing medicine.

We had three free hours the other day, so we headed for the “Theatre Near You” Multiplex. I stepped up and said “Anything funny that starts in less than 20 minutes.” That is how I found myself saying a thing that I would have bet against a week before: “Two for RV please.”

RV, with Robin Williams, got truly bad reviews. I saw the actor on the Daly Show a couple of weeks ago. They put the name of the Movie up on the screen behind them and then never, I mean not once, mentioned it. I said “Boy, that must be a stinker if he is embarrassed to even mention it.” and crossed it off my always-short, list of movies to be seen.

I like Robin Williams, but I’ll wait for Johnny Depp this summer, thank you very much.

I tried to prepare my friend for how dumb this movie might be.

He responded to my dire predictions with optimism.

The flick is a tremendously predictable story of a corporate obsessed dad, and his materialistic Malibu family. Through standard ridiculous circumstances they end up on a road trip with clichéd mishaps and duplicitous shenanigans that stopped being fresh with Lucy. The dramatic tension – such as it is – is created by recurring encounters with a family of travel bus living/home-schooling/southern speaking/cosmetics selling/group singing/big hair wearing/ rednecks.

The resolution – such as it is – comes when corporate dad learns the true value of family, regains the love of his children and we come to see that the red-state family is actually smarter and morally superior to the Malubites.

Insert sewage jokes and cleavage and you have the movie.

In my boredom, I started watching my friend watch the movie. Since we were 50% of the audience we could converse a bit – heck – we could have used cell phones with impunity.

I started enjoying his laugher at the dumb jokes. And I watched his perplexity at the set up. You see, he has none of the information necessary to respond to an American stereotype. He knows nothing of “trailer trash” or “rednecks” or even Malibu. He didn’t recognize what was supposed to be clearly “cheesy” or “corny”. He didn’t know that you were supposed to disdain the one family and empathize with the other until the dramatic twist where your loyalties will flip (what a shock!). He kept asking me “Why do these people run from the Happy Family? They are just trying to be kind!” Had this been a Tutsi and a Congolese family he would have been right with it, but as it was he had no choice except to see it with fresh eyes. So he was genuinely touched when the father’s heart turned back towards his children. He laughed hard, and breathed a deep sigh at the resolution. He declared it to be a great movie. I laughed with his laughter and tried to explain the details and then just gave up and enjoyed it.

Last year when he was here we went to see Hotel Rwanda. This was more fun. Actually, I can’t tell you when I have had more fun at a movie.

The opportunity to see with fresh eyes doesn’t come every day. Usually you have to borrow a four year old. But when you get a chance – take it. Suspend your doubt and cynicism and let someone give you a guided tour of their world.

This Religion and Spirituality forum is an opportunity to see with eyes that are not your own. It is easy to read the titles and decide who you are going to agree with and who you are going to discount. There is another way to look at it – I suggest you give it a try.

Oh, and if by some chance, somebody reading this knows somebody who knows Mr. Williams, tell him “Thanks” from me. He has nothing to be embarrassed about.

Oh, the internet. I guess God didn't really need me to wait before talking to you. :P

I think there was a heart explosion because I reacted to your comment with more joy and excitement than my heart could handle in a single instant. It's a great feeling, actually, to have a good heart explosion.

I'll be in Oregon for a bit about three weeks from now. I would love to make a trip to Salem and worship with y'all. I think your meeting's clerk is listed in the traveling Friends directory?

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