Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Way Home -- A Movie Review

The Way Home, a family movie starring Dean Cain (“Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”), tells the story of Randy Simpkin, a man who finds himself struggling to juggle the demands of his job and those of his family. As the family prepares for a long-awaited beach trip, Randy steps inside the house for a moment to check work messages on his computer, and while he is inside, his two-year-old son – whom his wife had asked him to watch to give her a chance to close up the house – disappears.

Randy and Christal are suddenly thrust into a parent’s worst nightmare, and they desperately look for Joe with no success. The sheriff is called, and the search begins. Thanks to Randy’s mother, whose ties with other church members spread far and wide across the county, the Simpkin home is soon filled with onlookers and well-wishing folks hoping to help finding the missing boy. After receiving clearance from the sheriff, everyone gets to work, and every inch of the fields surrounding the home is combed. It’s not long until a TV reporter arrives at the home along with a camera man and a helicopter. In front of her unfolds a breathtaking scene – hundreds of people are searching, praying, consoling and doing all they can to support the panicked family.

Meanwhile, while the search for Joe continues, Randy embarks on a different kind of search – he suddenly remembers moments he could have spent with his family which he chose instead to pour into his job. His mind wanders to imagine the unthinkable, and realizing that he might never see his son alive again, Randy falls to the ground, quickly sinking into an abyss of guilt and despair.

The day slowly drags toward the evening hours, and hopes of finding Joe alive and unharmed drip away like the colors of the setting sun – the boy has not been found so far, and with so many ponds, swamps and snakes in the area, his chances of making it through the night drop by the minute. Will the search party bring Joe Home?

The Way Home is a heartwarming, inspirational film suitable for the whole family to enjoy. In a society like ours, ultimately dedicated to weighing priorities in the wrong order, it is a painful reminder of what truly matters and what, in the end, does not. The film does a wonderful job expressing an important concept: The power of community. We have become so self-isolated and tuned into a world of progress and illusion that we have forgotten how important it is to rely on one another. This community did not. Though they all lived individual lives, the moment one of their own stumbled into trouble, everyone was ready to help in whichever way was needed.

The Way Home is based on a true story, a chilling fact that reflects our own need to look deep inside our hearts and be aware that tragedy can always be awaiting around the bend; if it does, being alone and regretful is not the answer.



Disclaimer: I am not being paid to write this review. The thoughts expressed in the review are my own and they are not, in any way, influenced by anyone involved in the making of the film.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Clear Vision

I have poor night vision. Because of this reason, I don’t particularly like to drive at night, unless an emergency arises. I have even gone as far as exploring my options of owning different gadgets that can make night driving easier, but once I took a look at the price tags, I quickly changed my mind. After all, I hardly ever need to drive at night.

Daytime driving is another business altogether. With three kids that seem to need to travel the world far and wide every day, and my own errands to run, I spend more time behind the wheel than I would like. But, let me not derail from the thought that led me here to start with.

The other day I was driving to go pick up my daughter from school, and since I left in a rush, I forgot my sunglasses. Not a big deal, I thought as I drove down the road. Well, I drove the two miles that separated me from the school and turned into the nearby neighborhood. I was suddenly blinded by sunshine and for a moment I could see absolutely nothing. So I slowed down, and as I did, I barely perceived a white car parked on the side of the road to my right. It’s a miracle I even saw it because the color of the car was completely washed out by the intensity of the light.

After I passed the car I thought of how interesting it is that there are times during the day when one can see even worse than at night. That fleeting thought, of course, led to more activity, and I was soon busy analyzing how even in life walking the middle lane is usually the best way to see things clearly. I suppose we can look at it in many ways – someone totally absorbed into the dark happenings of existence is usually too overwhelmed to see anything on his path but more and more darkness. When, on the other hand, one is too elevated and detached into the light, it is hard for him to be able to empathize with the darkness others are struggling through, and can see even less. Quite similarly, if one is always rejected and failing, he is probably blinded by the darkness of his perception of the self, but if one is too successful, even in this case, blindness is not too far behind.

Living an average life filled with a balance of woes and wows allows us to steer away from complete darkness, while still retaining a memory of what it is like to struggle and be fearful. Accepting a life which contains a bit of both allows us to move through obstacles more easily, and teaches us that life isn’t always dark or bathed in light. All days will perish at sunset and each night succumbs to the morning sun. Nothing lasts forever, and even a difficult situation will eventually turn when you least expect it, just as a wonderful outcome will probably not stay wonderful forever.

What counts is to live in the moment, and not forget that each moment that passes is a unique fraction of time that will never occur again.

Note to anyone that’s interested: This coming Saturday, Oct 23 I will be signing books at Northgate Books in Durham between the hours of 3 and 6pm. Also, the next Saturday, Oct 30, I will be at the Fall Festival in Fuquay Varina the whole day. I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Rust" -- A Movie Review

Rust, an inspirational film starring Golden Globe nominee Corbin Bernsen, was a nice surprise. A little fed up with many of the plot-poor movies of late, I found myself browsing the shelves at Blockbuster not even hoping to find anything worth watching, when I stumbled into this title.

Rust tells the story of James Moore, a former pastor going through a midlife crisis of faith. Unable to come to terms with his doubts, he returns to his hometown seeking answers he hopes to find at the old church where he initially felt his calling as a child.

Upon his return, James finds the place quite changed, and he learns of a local family who perished in a fire apparently set by Travis, his childhood friend and local loon. James goes to visit Travis in jail, and while he is a little surprised about his friend’s implication, he can’t but accept the man’s own rendition of what happened the fatal night of the fire.

A few days later, a disturbed local youth takes his life, and the town mourns the loss while collectively shaking its head at what could have motivated the young man to go through with such an unthinkable act.

James continues to visit Travis in jail, and time after time, he becomes more and more convinced of the man’s innocence, even if Travis himself accepts his fate as it is; his memorable words at some point: “My mother is fine; I am fine. It’s all according to God’s plan –He creates the plan, we only have to play our part.”

Mindless of Travis’s acceptance of whatever plan may be at play, James begins to dig deeper to find out what truly happened. Friendship and an unquenchable thirst for justice set him on a path of discovery sometimes at odds with the will of the rest of the town, only too glad to have someone to blame for the deaths.

The plot continues to evolve in a crescendo of events interesting enough to stand out, yet average enough to be credible.

The film makes many excellent points. One of them is James’s growing awareness of each person being connected to everyone else. Rust is one of those rare movies with a story so compelling that it stands out on its own, without need of explosions or foul language to capture one’s attention. It is heartwarming and profound; definitely a movie that can be enjoyed by the whole family, and one filled with powerful lessons that will likely stick with the viewer for a long time to come.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Along Came A Spider...

Along came a spider…and it built a huge web right in front of my door. And when I say huge, I don’t mean it the way a fisherman would when describing his catch. When I say huge, I mean a king-size spread of sticky goodness which could trap a grown man and make him scream for his mommy.

Interestingly enough, I didn’t even notice the web at first, when I went out to place a new umbrella over my patio table. It was my son – a big boy of almost sixteen who secretly dreams of being a Ninja and claims to be afraid of nothing – that jumped a foot off the floor when he went to close the door and saw the spider proudly guarding its work of art an inch away from his face.

At first instinct I thought of removing the uninvited guest and ask him to find a room elsewhere, possibly really far away; but then, given that Morgan asked to have a Halloween birthday party, I decided to leave it alone and treat it as a nearly perfect Halloween decoration. After all, who am I to spit on a free, suggestive bit of decoration?

Jokes aside, my decision to keep the spider and even go as far as finding it a name (don’t laugh, the name is Charlie – suggested by my son in honor of Charlotte from Charlotte’s web), is actually a personal confirmation. Several years ago I was terrified of spiders, and while over time I came to accept that for some strange, arcane reason, they too had to have a purpose in the greater scheme of all things, I never forgave whoever is in charge of deciding the shape and look of living things for making spiders look so creepy and hideous. At some point of my life I have believed that if I was chased by a murdering maniac with a knife, and my only escape path was through a thick patch of woods in late summer, then I would have gladly stopped and asked to be stabbed. That’s how terribly afraid of spiders I was! Well, things have changed. I still think spiders are hideous, but while I wouldn’t pet them, I can now peacefully cohabitate with them.

So, our pet/owner relationship began (monster/crazy woman sounds closer to reality, but cut me a little slack here, will you?), and while I waited for Morgan to get home from school I brew a pot of coffee and sat at the kitchen table with the newspaper. Once in a while I raised my eyes to look at Charlie, completely immobile in the center of his web, and I couldn’t help but marveling at the perfection and beauty of what he had created. And not only that…I quickly realized that Charlie surely had one of me: Patience. The poor soul clung in the middle of that web for hours, before an unsuspecting insect finally gave itself up as a mid-afternoon snack.

The spider waited. And then it waited some more. All along, it had no certainty that anything would fly near and would be attracted to the flowery illusion of its web, but in the end, its effort and patience were rewarded. A juicy insect was drawn to the web like a sailor charmed by the melodious voice of a siren, and before it even knew what happened, its time had come. The spider waited some more, to give the insect the chance to tire out, before wrapping it into a silky grave.

By the time I looked away from the mesmerizing scene, it was too late to read any articles – Morgan’s bus was due to arrive in just a few minutes. So, I left to go welcome my daughter home, all the while thinking about the spider and its unbelievable patience. Good things come to those who wait, someone claimed. I’m sure Charlie would agree.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Riding the Wave

The past few weeks have been a little rough for our family. Aside from being pulled in a million directions by daily demands, compounded by the needs of three growing children that seem to need to be in different places at the same time, we have had to deal with some health related issues.

My mother has been struggling for a while with leg pain, and while it is wise to get different opinions, we have found that sometimes it is only confusing, as each specialist seems to have a different outlook on things, and everything is dragged along for the sake of making the right decision.

If the poor woman didn’t have enough on her plate – and this may not seem like a big deal compared to other horrible things happening in the world – the death of her twenty-year-old cat, Angel, was the proverbial feather that pushed her off the precipice. The whole family was upset, and, in all truth, they gave me a scare of a lifetime, when I called and got my sister on the phone; she started crying the moment she heard my voice and couldn’t tell me what was happening. With a 76-year-old father suffering from heart disease, for a few seconds I expected the worst, and I was the one who almost had a heart attack.

Done with the woes of one family, let’s now pass on to the next installment. A couple of months ago, my father-in-law fell off a ladder while blowing leaves out of his gutters and broke a few ribs. While he was still recovering from that, he went to play golf a few weeks ago, only to end up at the hospital needing a pacemaker. Pacemaker inserted, he finally went home to lick his wounds, and we all thought the dust would settle from that moment on, but fate had a few other surprises in store…my kitten was bitten by a poisonous snake, and he survived but needed extra care for a week; and, as a sour cherry on top of a toppling cake, my mother-in-law began to feel ill last week. In the beginning she only had a few flu-like symptoms, but they quickly evolved into something more serious; serious enough, in fact, that she had to be placed into ICU for a few days. She is fine now, and recovering nicely, but for a few days we didn’t know what to expect.

Last night I sat in my living room, after everyone had gone to bed, and thought about the weeks gone by. We had a few scares, a heartbreak or two, but in the end everyone is still fine, alive, loved and, most important, we are all still here together to tell the story. And, if anything, all these upsets only drew us closer – it is easy for extended families to lose track of what’s happening with one another, and days go by without even a phone call. During the last couple of weeks, everyone stayed in touch, and everyone felt the need to let the others know how much they were loved. It’s a great feeling – an amazing one, in fact – and it is a sad fact that we rarely think about these things until we find ourselves on top of a wave, being carried to destinations unknown.

I am beginning to see land, and in fact I am preparing for a couple of busy weeks filled with events and book signings. Will fate work with me? There is no telling, for life will continue to happen with its up and downs, to keep us on our toes. All we can do is to appreciate each moment while the winds are blowing friendly.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Last Sunday Morning in New Orleans

The morning of September 12 I woke up earlier than I had planned. Since our flight out of New Orleans wasn’t supposed to leave until one in the afternoon, I had envisioned sleeping in a little, and then taking my sweet time trying to find some extra space in the suitcase to fit all the little knick-knacks I bought the previous four days.

It wasn’t meant to be. I woke up bright and early at 6am, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t go back to sleep. Since my sister was still peacefully cuddled up in the arms of Morpheus, and I didn’t want to wake her up by turning on the TV, I decided to call it a night; I got dressed and went out.

The city was in a moment of transition. While some die-hard partiers were still lingering at the doors of bars, they were gradually being outnumbered by the growing crowd of daytime folks, busy getting their beloved city ready for another day.

I walked for miles. With coffee cup in hand, I walked down Esplanade Avenue, passed the flea market where a few vendors had already started setting out their goods, and spilled onto the boardwalk coasting the Mississippi river. I passed by a small group of homeless men just waking up to a new day, and smiled when I saw one of them shaving in front of a fountain, while he held a small mirror in front of his face. I walked a bit longer and then sat on a bench facing the river. As I got ready to take a sip of coffee from the Styrofoam cup, I heard a moan. Thinking I had maybe just imagined it, I took another sip of coffee, only to hear moaning again a few seconds later. This time I turned around. Behind the bench, maybe ten feet away, was a small elderly man, crunched near a bush. His face was pale and his eyes were shut tight, and he looked like he could be anywhere between 50 and 100 years old – his skin was leathery, and his face was contorted in agony. I called out to him and asked if he was alright, but he didn’t even respond. I called him again, but even this time I got no reply. So, I walked up to him and kneeled beside him. Only then did he show any kind of awareness. I asked him if he was ill, and he shook his head. I waited a moment, and asked him again. He only looked up at me and said: “I am not sick, I am hungry.”

His words sealed on my heart as if someone had pressed them there with a hot iron. “You’re hungry?” I asked again, almost unable to accept that in a world where luxury is often ostentatious, a man can still go hungry. “When did you eat last?”

He replied that he had only eaten a bit of a sandwich he had found discarded the morning before. My heart sank even lower – with temperatures in the 90s, and enough humidity to boil a fly in mid-air, it was possible that the sandwich he had eaten was spoiled. I asked him if he wanted me to call an ambulance, and he shook his head, so I told him to wait a moment, and I rushed to a restaurant nearby to fetch a cup of hot tea and a couple of Danish pastries. I figured that he could drink the tea now and nibble on one of the pastries until his stomach was ready to accept food again. If he was right, and he was only hungry, the hot tea and a few bites were going to work some magic. The young girl attending the counter at the coffee shop seemed a bit surprised when I asked for hot tea instead than coffee, but she produced a steaming cup of it nonetheless. I ran back to the old man and sat with him for a while as he took eager sips of the hot beverage. And, as he had said, his cramps slowly relaxed and he felt better. I sat with him a bit longer, while he told me his story – he lost everything he owned when Katrina hit, and it wasn’t long until he also lost his job in constructions. He was never able to find his daughter and grandson, and it wasn’t long before a profound depression left him mentally crippled and unwilling to pull himself together. I looked into his eyes, and saw no hope there. I asked him why he didn’t try to get some sort of help, but all he could say was that it didn’t matter. After a while, I had to leave to go back to the hotel, but I first stopped by a local grocery store and got him a few non-perishable items he could keep in his backpack. I hugged him and said goodbye, but I thought of him for days.

His story led me to think of how easily we judge things from the outside. This man is, in the eyes of the world, a beggar, a reject the rest of society probably wishes could disappear, but in reality he is simply a man in pain. When he lost everything, he lost himself, and he could no longer find the will to fight. Sad as it is, a large majority of homeless individuals are mentally ill, and while it is possible for some to find a sense of direction if they truly are seeking one, for some the cloud of despair makes the path to recovery too dark and treacherous to walk. So they give up, and survive humbly at the outskirts of a world often too busy to notice their neighbors’ painful alienation.

Today, I feel fortunate that I awoke so early on that last Sunday morning in New Orleans, and as I write this I hope that at least for a moment, my homeless friend realized he is worthy to be loved.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hi Again!

After a break of a couple of months, I am ready to jump back into blogging. The past summer has been a rollercoaster – weddings, family visits, illness, children home from school, out of town trips, and book promotions, have all kept me busier than I ever imagined.

Now the dust has finally settled. The kids are back in school, family has come and gone, everyone’s well and…when I thought I was getting ready to be rolling my thumbs, I found a job. It’s a home job, mind you, and a writing one at that – the thing I love most – but it will nonetheless keep me busy.

So, this whole story to say that I will be back to regular blogging, but rather than posting everyday, I will probably do so half the time, perhaps every other day. I do miss talking to friends everyday, and I am glad I get to do a bit of that on Our Collective Wellness while I inhale a cup of coffee in the mornings; a little time is better than no time, right?

Blog for Hope will still be posted every Saturday morning, and while my October is already almost completely booked up, we really need to put our heads together and see if we can figure out ways to put aside some funds for the winter. If you would like to volunteer as a fund raiser organizer, I will love you for it. No idea is a bad idea, so feel free to shoot suggestions.

I think this is pretty much all I wanted to share for now. I look forward to posting again in the next couple of days, and to discuss topics with many people I have come to love talking to. So, see you the day after tomorrow. Until then, take care and don’t forget to enjoy life.