Friday, March 22, 2013

Lens of possibility

Looking for a diversion last Friday evening, I landed on a British documentary called 7 Up, unaware it would ensnare me in its spell. By Monday, I had finished the seven segments, called the Up Series, on Netflix. The last was only released this year and not yet online.

The premise was to film 14 English seven-year-old from all walks of life, returning every seven years so we could eavesdrop on their lives and witness the shaping of these men and women from childhood. According to the film:
"Why do we bring these children together? Because we want to get a glimpse of England in the year 2000. The shop steward and the executive of the year 2000 are now seven years old."
Probably not intended to be viewed as a marathon the way I did, I tired a bit of the closing quote – "Give me a child when he is seven and I will give you the man." – a Jesuit motto, though it was appropriate.

Honestly, what probably drew me in at first was these children were only a few years older than I and we inhibited a similar world: cold wars, racism, metal jungle gyms, a freer childhood and a time when girls never wore slacks. After I met these seven year olds, I wanted to see how life had treated them.

Haunting the background of the film was the idea that class plays a significant role in English mobility. I had not realized just how structured this society had been and it helped me understand my freedom of living in the States in a new light.

Of course I had my favorites: the poorest kid with the greatest energy, the working-class girl who said skin color makes no difference (some are brown and we're white, well, pinkish); and my least favorites, the boys who boasted in affected accents they read the Financial Times and other newspapers. And I noticed the inequity in gender representation of only four girls.

By 14, none would look at the camera and this segment was particularly short and relied heavily on the original film. Many of the others could stand alone.

After 21, some dropped out for good as participation was voluntary. Some lives seemed set here, but as time and clips went by, you watched life intervene with some surprising twists.

My preferences changed over the years of film and the person to whom I gravitated lived the most difficult life, yet he seemed the closest to God. The scrappy kid lived his dream by 21, went on to work himself into the middle class and yet was still the same, energetic charmer. The sad girl dripping in money was very lost as a young adult, but matured beautifully, becoming a bereavement counselor after raising her children. The most snobbish dropped out for awhile, but returned to garner press for his charity and, in the process, had mellowed. The idealist taught in the slums of London and India for years, blossoming late, eventually marrying, raising young sons and moving to a private-school setting. The pair we met in the orphanage drifted career wise, but became solid family men. The East-End girls worked hard, learning later the limitations of their class, but forging happily ahead. One of them struggles with rheumatoid arthritis and struck a chord with me. And one boy seemed destined for a law career and was very thankful for a steady life.

Several things touched me:
• That even though English society seemed very set and structured, there was always state help for those in need. Something called council houses were locally governed and ensured the working class always had decent shelter.
• Money does not equate to happiness.
• The most spiritual person struggled the most.
• Those for whom things flowed easily lacked depth.
• Childhood curiosity and interest often stuck for good.
• The friendships that developed among these seemingly disparate people.
• We all develop, achieve and mature at different rates and must honor our own rhythm, not compare ourselves.
• By 42 some of these people seemed old, when I only seem to be beginning.
• You must not judge someone's life because you don't see or know it all.

Mostly, this series caused me to reflect on my own life and, again, see the possibility.

This was on my heart as I entered worship Sunday and conversed with God:

I am tired of living in fear. 
I want to live in love. 
Seek God's direction, daily.
Know your heart.
Bring light to your fears; define them.
Live in the possibility.
Be open, not constricted.
Breathe deeply.
Look for the joy, no matter how small.
Practice gratitude.
Find the lesson in the hard stuff.
Remember that you are loved.
Spread love – even when you don't feel it.
Practice loving yourself; indulge it [yourself] sometimes.
Spend time in nature.
Observe nature, animals.
Spend time with children.
Spend time with the marginalized.
Pray, converse, directly with Spirit.
Worship regularly with others.
Share your heart, yourself, deeply.

• How have I been touched by witnessing the life of another?
• When I strip away the comparison and judgment, what can I learn?
• If I can look at my life in increments – @7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 29, 56 – what do I see?
• Who am I now as a result of my life?
• What role has Spirit played in all of this?

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