In American life, we think we are most free when we don't need anybody. Exactly what Alzheimer's represents is absolute dependency - That's what we all need to learn - how deeply we need one another.
- Stanley Hauerwas, Professor of Theological Ethics
All real living is meeting.
- Martin Buber, Philosopher
If someone listens, or stretches out a hand, or whispers a kind word of encouragement, or attempts to understand a lonely person, extraordinary things begin to happen.
- Loretta Girzartis, Author
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essayist
A good traveler is one who does not know where he is going to, and a perfect traveler does not know where he came from.
- Lin Yutang, Writer
I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.
- Albert Schweitzer, Missionary
They invented hugs to let people know you love them without saying anything.
- Bil Keane, Cartoonist
The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.
- William James, Philosopher
Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat . . .We must find each other.
- Mother Theresa, Saint
Nothing is more revealing than movement.
- Martha Graham, Dancer
Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World.
- Christopher Columbus, Explorer
You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.
- A. A. Milne, Author (Winnie the Pooh)
Memory Bridge Newsletter
06/23/09 - Reading for Life: Memory and Culture
Gran Torino by Kim Bell
Clint Eastwood’s film Gran Torino begins and ends with a funeral in a traditional Catholic church. Both services open with what are, seemingly, the two biggest questions we are called upon to ask throughout our lives: What is life? What is death? And while these questions significantly frame what happens in the film, the most powerful question worth asking (and answering) turns out to be an entirely different one—one that is, in a single, revealing moment, only implied by the film: When is your birthday?
Walter Kowalski, Eastwood’s rail-thin, grizzled character, is a widower living in an old neighborhood that has been, as the film portrays it from his perspective, invaded by minorities, especially Hmong people and Hmong gangs. Throughout the film, Kowalski liberally and angrily spits out a colorful variety of racial slurs that seem to indicate his distaste for his diverse environment. His old world racism is balanced out, however, by an equally rabid sense of justice. In many ways, this role is one we are used to seeing Eastwood play, but here the lone, gunslinging, steely-eyed cowboy has been resurrected in a multicultural context. We soon see, too, that his use of language is less about division than connection.
And, as we might expect of Dirty Harry, actions speak louder than words in this film. After Kowalski intervenes one night to save his young neighbor from a gang banger cousin, the entire Hmong community begins to leave him offerings of food and flowers to show their appreciation. Kowalski is not immediately won over; however, over time he is drawn into communion with the Hmong people. On his birthday, after a misguided attempt by his son to celebrate it with him, he is invited to participate in a feast at his neighbor’s house. He grudgingly attends and then, after an epiphany provoked by a reading from a medicine man, realizes that he has more in common with these neighbors than he does with his own family. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror as he comes to this conclusion, he says to his reflection, “Happy Birthday.”
Walter Kowalski’s birth day is the day he learns to embrace the true members of his community. In this film, community is not determined by race or neighborhood as much as it is defined by the ability of people to nourish one another. Community, in other words, is not something localized, static, or exclusive. The vintage 1972 Ford automobile that gives the film its title (and that Kowalski washes as tenderly as though it were a baby) symbolizes the changing nature of community in America. Like the prized vehicle and like the care-giving community that we participate in every day, this one is on wheels and, in the end, has a reach unlimited by race, ethnicity, age, or blood.