Childhood is what you spend the rest of your life trying to overcome. That’s what momma always says. She says that beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts the most. Try to remember that when you find yourself at a new beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up. And it will, too…
Birdee- Hope Floats
I love the movie Hope Floats. I like Sandra Bullock tremendously- I think she’s a great actress, and a delight. I totally want to hang out with her. (Sandra- call me!) She’s fantastic in broad comedies, of course, but I’ve always been moved by her quieter performances.
I think she makes really interesting decisions as an actress, both in the characters she picks and the way she portrays them.
In the film, Sandra plays Birdee- a woman who was THAT girl in high school. Beautiful, popular. The kind of girl that all the other girls either envied or emulated- or both. Daring in the way that only a girl at the top of the high school social food chain can afford to be, at that age. Birdee finds herself married to a cad who cheats on her, and then humiliates her on national television. Birdee flees home, seeking the safety of her mother’s house to lick her wounds.
Birdee’s mother, Ramona, is played by the incomparable Gena Rowlands. She’s a strong, no-nonsense, southern matriarch. She is kind, but doesn’t cotton to feeling sorry for yourself. You are not going to get away with self pity in her presence. She’s more likely to give you a wise but pointed piece of her mind than permission to wallow.
Birdee: You just never liked Bill.
Ramona: Oh, I like all of God’s creatures; I just like some of them better stuffed. And he’s one of them.
Ramona passes away. After the funeral, Birdee’s daughter, Bernice, wants to leave with her daddy, who she worships and idealizes in the wake of the break up. Her father, however, wants time with Connie- the woman he cheated on Birdee with- to ‘give it a chance.’ He says no. The little girl (played beautifully by Mae Whitman of Parenthood fame) is devastated. Birdee sees her daughter sobbing and banging on the car window, begging her father to take her.
I don’t know what the stage direction was, but another actress might have had her character run to her daughter, scoop her up, cover her in kisses. Or have her angry at the thought that her daughter wanted to go with her philandering father, rather than stay with her mother who’d just suffered a loss. I probably would have cried at either of those portrayals, too. But the reason that scene has stayed with me since the first time I saw it, years ago, is that’s not what Sandra, as Birdee, does.
She lets her daughter make her plea. She watches her daughter get a glimpse of who her father really is, then Birdee stands up, and almost imperceptibly squares her shoulders. Then in measured, patient steps walks down to collect her heartbroken child.
She doesn’t pat her head and console her. She doesn’t weep along with her. She quietly, and with incredible dignity, picks her up and walks silently back into the house.
She becomes her mother’s daughter in that moment.
I am undone watching that scene, every time.
That’s the kind of acting that has always moved me- not the chewing up the scenery kind. Not the epic battles, or the theatrical tirades. The quiet moments, when you watch someone decide to be brave. Because it’s always a decision.
When I was working in special ed, I had a student that required supervision at recess. He would seek out other kids to play with, and sometimes they would let him in their game, and sometimes they would not.
Our job was to stand back and let him navigate those social waters himself- the way he would need to in life. It was excruciating, some days.
One day, there were some girls playing basketball. One girl, in particular, was THAT girl. Taller than her friends. Gorgeous. Popular. Athletic. The kind of girl who sets the tone. The kind of girl who other girls follow, for better or for worse. He walked up and asked if he could join their game.
Most of the girls looked at one another and snickered. Some started to say they were just about done playing. My heart sank, and I fought the urge to intervene.
I looked at her. I watched her, THAT girl, look at her friends, and really see them. And then I saw it. I saw her make the choice to be kind, and I watched her make the decision to be brave. I heard her say, Let’s go. To him.
Then she picked up the ball, gestured to him to follow. She turned her back on the girls, and then walked off with him to play one on one. She didn’t have to do that. She could have stayed with her posse of “it” girls and played it safe. She didn’t.
It’s in those quiet moments that we reveal who we fundamentally are. Not in the rages of battle, although of course there is bravery there, too. Most of us don’t find ourselves on the front lines of war, though. We find ourselves on the front lines of our lives- where the casualties can be just as devastating, they just don’t make headlines.
Sometimes courage is loud and grand, but more often than not I think it’s a quiet little squaring of your shoulders. A decision to do the hard thing. Sometimes it isn’t the grand speech. Sometimes courage is keeping your mouth shut, and letting things be what they are. Sometimes courage is knowing that what is needed is not sympathy, but stoicism.
Sometimes it’s less about winning the battle, and more about letting the gut punch go unreturned, ignoring the mean spirited text. Sometimes it’s standing by and letting your child experience something hard. And then it is the measured, silent walk to pick up the pieces left in someone else’s wake.
Sometimes, friends, it’s a game of one on one.
Every day, when I send my daughter off to school, I try and remember to tell her the following three things. “Be kind. Be brave. Do your best.” And every morning, when I say it, I think of that girl.
Bravery is always a decision. Always.
ps There IS a good tirade in the movie. Sometimes it’s an AND not an OR.
You think that I don’t know that? I know that I’m not what I once was. I know that! But I haven’t changed so much, that I would go and lie to someone that I love. God, I would walk through fire before I’d let them feel like they were nothing! And I would never break up anybody’s home. Because I am not a quitter. I care about my family! I may not be the same person, but then again, neither are you. You’re sad, you’re weak, and you’re… shorter, if you want to know the truth.
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