Movie Review: ‘Wonder’ (2017)

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Today I accompanied my school’s Middle Year students on a trip to the cinema to see ‘Wonder’, a new film based on the bestselling book by the same name about a boy who has facial differences.Jacob Tremblay plays August Pullman, alongside Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson who play his parents. The stage is set when the Pullmans decide that Auggie should start 5th Grade in a mainstream school, having been homeschooled by his mother until then. Mandy Patinkin plays a very wise and empathetic school Principal, Mr Tushman.

What a sad world we live in when a kid gets less attention walking through the city or a park wearing a space helmet than he does when wearing his own face. It’s human nature, I know, but that doesn’t make it okay. This film challenges that “default setting” in a very compelling way.

Auggie’s teacher, Mr Brown, challenges the kids to ask themselves: What sort of person am I?
This movie challenges every audience member to ask themselves the same question. How do I deal with difference? What does my face tell them? What kind of friend am I? What monuments do my deeds leave?

The audience feels sympathetic to Auggie long before they see his face. When he says, “I know I’ll never be an ordinary kid ordinary kids don’t make others run away from playgrounds” it’s like a punch in the stomach that leaves you winded.

As the movie rolls on, we also see that the “regular” kids like Auggie’s sister, Via, have their own challenges with acceptance and friendship, even without the extra challenges that some kids face. Over and over, this film reminds me again just how cruel kids— and people in general— can be, in so many ways.

The journey of discovering who is real and who is not is often painful and traumatic. Together, Auggie and Via realise that they are each other’s best friends, and lean to rely on each other for the support and love that they need to get through each day.

The development of genuine friendship reminds us that looking past the surface to really see someone is what makes a crucial difference to anyone, but especially those who are so aware of that surface. There is also a painful reminder that even the nice kids can make mistakes when they focus on appearances instead of who someone really is.

This movie delivers so many powerful lessons about accepting others and even more about accepting ourselves. In both cases, we need to learn to live according to the precept established by Mr Brown in Auggie’s first lesson in 5th Grade: “When you have.a choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

It sounds simple— perhaps too simple. But is it?

The hardest part may be in finding the willingness to step out of our comfort zones and open our own minds to each other and the possibilities that our differences bring.

Everyone old enough to understand the difference between kindness and judgement should see this film.

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Perfect!

Yesterday, a very lovely friend of mine announced a new relationship status. She’s met a fantastic guy, and he thinks she’s fantastic, and they’re both deliriously happy.

The announcement that she is in a relationship appeared on FaceSpace, accompanied by some photographs that just resonated with joy, and with her saying that “He is my perfection”.  Some of her friends were quite sceptical about this expression, and got a bit “older brotherly” about it, but I understood what she meant.

She doesn’t believe he’s perfect. She doesn’t think they will never have problems or disagreements. Based on what I’ve seen, they’re both actually quite sensible and thoughtful about how they’ve approached their new relationship.

What she does believe is that he’s a perfect guy for her.
In terms of faith, world view, priorities, interests and personalities, they’re an excellent match.  And it really does seem that they’ve both just been waiting and praying  for someone exactly like the other to arrive in their lives.
We should never forget that it’s entirely possible to be perfect for someone without actually being perfect.

 

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It’s lovely to see a friend you care about really enjoying their relationship and feeling like they’ve been blessed beyond belief. It’s fantastic to see his friends and family expressing the same happiness that we’re all expressing for her.

I feel really privileged  to be included in her happiness, as a friend and confidante.  I look forward to getting to know him and seeing them grow together.

And if she wants to call him her perfect guy, I say she should be able to. She should know.

Disappointment, disillusion, and indecision.

I’m really disappointed in a few particular people at the moment.

All my life, I’ve been taught to be honest, to be kind, to mind my manners, to not cause offence, to be the first to apologise, to be a gracious and forgiving friend, and to overcome hatred with love.

However, I’m seeing more and more of exactly the opposite from people I have always respected.  And today, I find myself feeling very hurt over the way some of them have treated me and/or people that I love and value highly.
I’m not even questioning how much I mean to any of those individuals, because it’s glaringly obvious that I don’t mean much to them at all.
That kind of reality check is tough going at the best of times, but when people who position themselves as leaders in a community or social group let you down, and then blame you for it… well, that sets a person to thinking seriously about why one is still part of that group.

It’s not just an issue of being offended or having my feelings deeply hurt. It’s come to the point of really questioning if my values are the same as theirs, and if I can condone their actions when I so strongly disagree with them.

I certainly can’t remain silent and have no intention of doing so, but I am searching to find a way to challenge those negative behaviours and stand up for what I believe in without doing more damage.

I can’t just let it go: if I don’t say anything, they’ll certainly do more damage, and besides that, I’d be that person who didn’t speak out against the things that caused my very close friend and/or myself considerable pain, so that is not an option.

It’s a tricky position to be in.

So, for now, I’m biding my time and trying to deal with my anger. I’m hoping that it will subside enough to be able to say what needs to be said rationally and patiently, without being spiteful or vengeful, but that’s still only an aspiration. I don’t want to hurt them in retaliation – what I’d really like is for them to see that they’ve been doing the wrong thing, and acknowledge that and take responsibility for what they’ve done, even though the consequences of their actions can’t be undone.

Tricky times.

I am so incredibly, achingly sad.

It’s the same kind of sadness I felt when my friend Rebecca was dying of cancer. We all knew it was going to happen, and we all knew that she was going to a better place. Even so, if we could have turned the wheels of time to keep her here a bit longer with her family, or turned the wheels of science and medicine to cure her, we would have. The time came; she was gone, and we all had to carry on despite our sadness at being left behind.

This time is a bit different because nobody is dying, but the deep sadness is the same. Three beautiful friends of mine are moving to the other side of the country. I fully understand why they’re going, and I know that they’re going to be a blessing and achieve wonderful things in a new place with new people. I sincerely wish them every good thing and all God’s blessings as they go.  I know we’ll be able to keep in touch via text, emails and Facebook, and heck – I might even call them sometimes and actually talk on the phone. That’s pretty revolutionary for me.

Even so, it’s not going to be the same as seeing them and working with them every day.  They’re the sort of people that everyone needs in their lives. Dynamic, honest, encouraging, empathetic and loyal to the core.  On top of that, they totally get me. That’s rare.

The knowing looks across the room, trying not to laugh at private jokes at inopportune times, encouraging smiles and fist pumps as we pass one another in the hallways, and the understanding smile of someone who gets it when life is difficult are just some of the many things I’ll miss. There’s going to be a very conspicuous absence when they’re gone.

It’s a big challenge to try to be positive in these last few days. but I really want to soak up the time I have with them, and enjoy every moment, even if it is hard to push my sadness aside and not let it pervade everything.  There will be plenty of time for misery when they’ve gone, after all.

Yes, I have other friends who are wonderful, and supportive, and fun, and all that. It’s not that I don’t appreciate their friendship – I do, and I make sure they know it.  I know life will go on, and people will always come and go from it. Sometimes that can even be a good thing. When it’s not a welcome change, though, it goes against every instinct and sense to willingly say goodbye to someone you love and let them go away to be wonderful in someone else’s life instead of mine, or ours.

So, for now at least, sadness it is.

My Canadian brother from another mother.

I have a friend that I love a lot. We live thousands of kilometres apart, but we spend part of every day talking with each other. It’s a beautiful friendship that has grown out of a chance meeting, a random response to a random tweet.

When I visited Canada last year, I spent some time at Sean’s house.
I remember we were both nervous about finally meeting each other after talking online for so long, but that first hug was just incredible. The next few days were proof that our friendship was real. Even our partners commented on how it seemed like Sean and I had known each other forever.

On the morning that we left, the mood was sombre. Goodbyes were tearful. As I was about to go, he said, “Please don’t leave.”

My response was immediate and honest. “I’ll never completely be gone. You’re my brother now. I’ll be back.”

When I do go back in September this year, Sean and I are going to have our own little adoption ceremony. What we have is a friendship more valuable than we ever realised it would be when we started joking with one another on Twitter way back when.

Today, when I signed into the instant messenger that we both use, I found these words from him.

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He may have known how timely his words were, but I don’t think he realises just how healing and restoring it was to read these words after a tough week in which I had confronted some tough challenges, both professionally and personally.

It’s so incredibly good to know you have someone who has your back, no matter what critics and problems life might throw at you. Sean is by no means the only one of my friends who does that, but I wouldn’t want to be without him. He has his own very special place in my heart, and nobody could replace him.

Thank you, Sean, from the bottom of my heart, for your words and for being an amazing friend and brother.

Acc-cen-tu-ate the positive, e-lim-in-ate the negative…

I was reading a newsletter in my school staff email this morning when one paragraph really caught my attention.

“Can you remove yourself from people who are negative or holding you back?
The quality of our lives will depend on the quality of people with whom we surround ourselves… It is a sign of our maturity to identify any negative effects of others and then have the courage to remove ourselves from that influence.” (Vital Staff, 2015, 14)

This is a truth that many people don’t realise.

I’m not just talking about people who don’t like your haircut or the way you dress. I’m not even talking about people who don’t share your views on politics or religion. I’m talking about those people who bitch, backstab, undermine, conspire and manipulate so that people they perceive as “powerful” will see and treat others in a negative and often quite destructive way.

I know the effects certain negative people have had on my life in the past, both personally and professionally. I’ve seen friendships and relationships eroded gradually until they no longer exist. I’ve seen different people nearly bring down a church, a school, a family. It’s ugly. It’s an incredibly awful thing to experience.

I’ve also experienced the benefits of removing those people from my life. It hasn’t been easy, nor has it been painless, but it has been totally worth it.

Negativity is a cancer that attacks and weakens from within. We often can’t detect it working away under the surface, threatening to overtake and kill the very thing it’s feeding on.

When we do realise it’s there, the best way to treat it is to cut it out and leave it behind. We can’t afford to allow it to continue to grow, because it will gradually choke the joy, and then the life, out of us.

I can hear some of you thinking, “But wait. You’re a Christian. Aren’t you supposed to love and forgive and all that?”

Sure. Love and forgiveness are at the top of the list of ways in which we’re meant to treat other people.

However, that doesn’t mean we have to allow people to continue behaving in ways that are hateful and harmful to themselves and others. How is it showing love to someone if others just let them destroy every relationship they have? How is it forgiving or restoring them if there’s no stand against the behaviours that will eventually destroy both them and other people?

So, when it comes to my friendships, relationships, and interactions with other people, I will continue to choose to surround myself with the positive and constructive, and excise the negative. I can, and will, continue to remove the negative people from my life.

There’s no compulsion for you to follow suit. There’s no obligation for you to keep me in your friends list if you think I have a negative effect on you.

I know not everyone will like me. I realise that even the people who like me don’t like everything I do or say. It would be naive of me to think otherwise.
You know what? I’m entirely okay with that. I don’t need to be liked by everyone. I don’t need a fan club. And I am more than happy to accept that there are some who will be much happier without me. That’s life.

I do not desire to be everything to everyone. At some point earlier in my life I did, but I have long stopped trying to achieve that, because I found out the hard way that it simply isn’t possible. That’s a sure-fire recipe for heartbreak.

What I do desire is for the people close to me to continue to be positive and constructive in my life.

I relish the freedom to choose who and what will speak into my life and influence my thoughts and actions, and the freedom to be who I am without always looking over my shoulder, afraid of the judgement and negativity of others.

High dudgeon at low treatment of a good friend.

Loyalty has always been important to me; it’s a quality for which I am known.  My friends are enormously important to me.  I am protective of them, keen to encourage them and sure to discuss things calmly before problems elevate to “barrier” status.

That’s why it really frustrates and angers me when I see a friend suffering because someone they have helped and nurtured fails to return any loyalty to them. It’s even worse when another friendship suffers because of the words and actions of that disloyal person.

A friend who I admire immensely is going through that at the moment. She has faced challenges with integrity, and gone through significant personal grief, yet she is still a nurturer, a giver, a carer… a generous soul. When people are in trouble, she helps them.  She thinks about the needs of others and does all she can to meet them. Often, she does this at the expense of her own health and welfare, and many don’t realise how much she invests in others.

Enter a young person who is unhappy in their workplace, feeling as though there is no option and longing for something to change.  My friend took this young adult under her wing, gave them a new job and a new lease on life. Said young adult has “returned the favour” by white-anting her, undermining her both professionally and personally, and causing her more grief than they will ever realise. Relationships have suffered, friendships are strained, workplace tensions are elevated, and everyone involved is suffering… except for the young person who has moved on to new opportunities.

My message is this: when someone tells you “something someone said”, measure what they are saying against what you know of that other person.
Is it consistent with what you know of them? Is it borne out by what you’ve seen them do and how you’ve seen them live?  Is what they are accused of consistent with how they’ve treated you?  If not, then it’s probably not true at all.

If what you have heard bothers you, please just go to the person concerned and ask them what’s going on. Talk with them. Listen to what they have to say.  Use it as an opportunity to communicate, rather than to bottle things up and let it escalate to a point where silence becomes a habit and both of you are left wondering what happened to your friendship.

I know nobody is perfect. We all get things wrong sometimes. We all fail, we all make mistakes, and we all do things without realising that it’s going to hurt someone else.
However, deliberate misrepresentation of those things is cruel and heartless.  It’s impossible for me to understand what drives someone to do that. Is it a “divide and conquer” mentality, that lives in hope of breaking a friendship so that both parties will dislike each other and develop stronger friendships with the person in the middle? Is it jealousy of a strong relationship that someone desires for themselves but doesn’t know how to achieve that?  Does it make someone feel important? Is it a power trip?  I just don’t get it.

Gossip, half-truths and lies are toxic. They kill friendships, they poison happiness, and they leave pain and heartache in their wake. Why anyone chooses that as a lifestyle is beyond me.

I will not allow those things into my life, my friendships, or my relationships.

I will not allow someone who engages in those things to shape my view or understanding of events and people in my life.

I will remain loyal to those who are victims of this kind of behaviour and show no loyalty whatsoever to those who are responsible.

I don’t care if my writing this makes someone uncomfortable. If someone’s conscience is pricked, good!

If someone thinks this is about them… it’s probably not, but perhaps that’s an indication that they need to take a long, hard look at themselves and how they treat their friends.  It’s never too late, and it’s certainly not impossible, to say “I was wrong, and I’m sorry.”

If you are someone who people this way, don’t be surprised if I am very cautious about being friends with you. I’ll be pleasant, polite and friendly, but we won’t be friends. I won’t tell you things, and I sure as hell won’t let you tell me things about other people.

My friends matter to me far more than things, events, or experiences.  I will guard my close friendships with more tenacity and stubborn determination than most people have ever seen in me – and that’s saying something.

People have tried and failed to get between me and my besties before, and discovered that it’s an absolute deal-breaker with no chance of a comeback.

That’s what integrity in friendship is.

The friendships that never were.

I don’t understand why people push good friends away. 

Nobody needs bad friends – that’s a no-brainer.  I’ve had my share of backstabbers, gossips, control freaks and users that I’ve eventually woken up to and had to move on.  It hurts to know that another person doesn’t value you the way you value them, but it hurts more to stay in a friendship like that and let them keep doing it. That just reinforces and affirms their bad behaviour.  It’s asking for more. 
That’s never a good thing.

In the past six weeks, I’ve experienced something different than that. Two people, both of whom have been my friends for quite some time, have chosen to walk away from our friendship.  

Both have stunned me for a number of reasons. I’ve been a good, loyal and encouraging friend when their chips were down. I’ve sat up late listening and talking when they had problems. I’ve invested time, love and energy into our friendships. And both freely admit that it’s nothing I’ve done… they have simply chosen to move on, not spend time with me, and not maintain our friendship.

Since then, I have seen them try to manipulate people and situations for their own benefit, to control others and have them at their bidding, and deceive other mutual friends in one way or another. “Divide and conquer” seems to be the order of the day. They have certainly left a deliberate trail of emotional and social destruction in their wake.

What kind of person does that?

I recognise that they both fall into the “user” category.  I wish I had recognised them for what they are sooner. I wish I could protect the people that they are now attacking instead of me. 

The strange thing is that I am still grieving for those friendships. I miss them.  It hurts to know that neither of those people valued me as a friend the way that I valued them.  It hurts to know that they do not care that I am no longer in their lives.

In one way, I hope karma, or poetic justice, or divine retribution, or whatever you want to call it, bites them hard. It would be good to know they learned their lesson from someone else doing the same thing to them, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone could be better than they are at using and abusing friendships.

In another way, thinking like that makes me sad. I can’t maintain it.  I’d prefer to walk away with my integrity and character intact, understanding that some people only come into our lives for a season and then we both move on.  I’d like to wish them well. I hope they both eventually find happiness, security, love… whatever it is they are looking for.  

My choice is to walk away from people like that and invest my time, energy and love in my real friends.  I am so blessed to have a select few in my life that I can trust to share my life and my love.  Those people will always have the best of all I have to give them. 

Anyone else will just have to be willing to meet me halfway and be willing to accept my caution until I am sure of who and what they are. I’ve learned that much.

 

“Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”

I’ve heard this said so many times, and I do believe it.

The line comes from Tennyson’s poem, ‘In Memoriam’.  It’s a long poem  in which the poet struggles with grief and loss, and all the other emotions and questions of faith and life that accompany them. His thoughts and feelings are very much like mine at this point in time.

“I hold it true, whate’er befall;

I feel it, when I sorrow most;

‘Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.”

When a friendship ends or when a loved one dies, it’s really hard to be the one that is left behind. It hurts… a lot.

Both kinds of grief have happened to me in the past couple of weeks. It’s also two years today since I sat with my mother, held her hand, and watched and waited as she died.  I’m sure the anniversary is adding to my pensive mood today as I consider the grief I have experience more recently.

A friend who means a very great deal to me turned on me and said he never wanted to talk with me again. I still don’t know what brought that on. I probably never will. He’s made his decision and I have to live with that, no matter how much it hurts, and no matter how much I really don’t like it.

We had been such close friends. We talked about everything. We shared hopes and dreams, happiness, pain, sorrow, loss, disappointment, and elation.  He told me often that I was one of the best friends he had ever had. He told me that he valued me as a friend, as a confidante, as a sounding board.
Yet he allowed his anger over something that someone else had done to poison our friendship. He told me that he knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, and that he knew I couldn’t do anything to change it… but he couldn’t let it go. He cradled his hurt, fed it with resentment, and it grew into obsessive anger.  He fertilised it with bitterness and self-pity, and it grew to be so big that it became a barrier between himself and everyone else.  Then he blamed me and pushed me away.
I observed to a mutual friend at that time that it’s worse than when a friend dies because you know at least they wanted to be with you and they cherished your friendship. Being apart is not what either of you wanted. When it’s someone’s choice, and you are the one who is rejected, that’s really hard to accept.

Two weeks later, I’m faced with the imminent death of a dear friend who I care very much for.
She’s young, vibrant, spirited, loving, and one of those beautiful souls that touches the heart of everyone she meets in a very special way.
She has two young daughters and a husband who loves her very much.
Her family all adore her. She is the eldest daughter, the big sister, a loving aunt, a treasured cousin, a precious niece.

Never mind my grief. It’s nothing compared to theirs.
What are they going to do without her? How will they cope? How will they move on and keep on building their lives?  I know their lives will be filled with the sentiment of “I wish she were here to see/experience/enjoy this”.

I am really struggling to deal with my grief. I don’t want her to die. I don’t want her daughters to have to grow up without their mother. I don’t want her struggle, our friendship, and the prayers of everyone who has supported and loved and cared for her to end this way.

I know cancer doesn’t actually choose its victims. I certainly don’t believe that God inflicts cancer, or any other disease, on people just for the hell of it.
My struggle is seeing someone beautiful and sweet and kind being eaten alive by this evil disease, while others who abuse and rape women and children, or murder people, or prey on the powerless for their own gratification, live healthy, long lives in relative comfort.
How is that fair?

These thoughts flood my heart and soul with anger and a strong desire for the world to be different, for the endings to be different, for evil diseases to only happen to the people who don’t love or appreciate or care for others, even while I’m trying to stem the tide and just deal with my personal grief.

I’ve always had a strong sense of justice and it’s just screaming now for relief and for something miraculous to happen.

Then I think about the friend who walked away, and I want to tell him that people aren’t disposable. Friendships are not about convenience or personal comfort, to be abandoned when things get a bit difficult.  Loyalty, love and compassion in a friendship aren’t things you should just be able to walk away from… especially when friends like that can be taken away from you at any moment.

I want both of them to come back. I want to be able to talk and laugh and play and cry and tell stories and listen and drink coffee and relax with them.

I don’t want them to be gone.