Monday, May 31, 2010

oliver sacks

I remember the first time I saw the movie 'Awakenings'. I was living at Jeff Street Baptist Center and working with a community of inner-city teenagers from the Clarksdale housing projects in Louisville, Kentucky. Monday nights were 'Dollar Movie Nights' for us and we would load up in our orange van (affectionately called 'The Great Pumpkin') and head out to the theater. On that Monday night I chose 'Awakenings' as our movie of the week, hoping that my kids would identify with the 'helping each other overcome' theme in the story. My dream was deferred. They hated it! Within 15 minutes of the start of the movie they were throwing popcorn at the screen! We got up and changed theaters to something faster paced and action oriented. I had to promise to check my movie choices with them before they agreed to go with me again.

I loved the first fifteen minutes of Awakenings, though, and went back to the theater to see the whole movie by myself on the next night. I identified with Dr. Oliver Sacks (played by Robin Williams) and the compassion, commitment and creativity he had toward his patients suffering with post-encephalitic disease, a 'sleepy sickness' that broke out in the world just after the First World War and left the sick in varying states of suspended animation unable to realize that years were going by, unknowing that they were 40 years older than when their bodies succumbed to the disease. I saw myself in the way he came home from the chronic hospital where he served and poured himself into the study of the little known plants he tended in his sparse apartment. I felt the community of dedicated friends around him in the asylum. I understood why the movie received 3 Oscar nominations, one for best actor (Robert DeNiro for his role as Leonard), one for best picture, and one for best writing of a screenplay adapted from a book.

The movie led me to the book 'Awakenings' by Oliver Sacks and into the literary and neurological worlds of one of the finest writers and doctors of our time. He taught me to picture people (and the characters in my stories) as worlds, a variety of worlds - the landscapes of being in which they reside. And the picturing of worlds requires an active exploration of images and views, a continual jumping-about and imaginative movement instead of a static and systematic formulation. I like the image 'landscape of being' and it helps me see the world with insight and grace. I hope it helps you, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment