Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Working Toward the Happy Ending

Once upon a time, we believed in the essential goodness of people as a whole—or at least I did. Like Anne Frank, we trusted the majority would do what was right when we could see what that was. Like her, we can be sorely disappointed. Sometimes recognizing the most righteous path takes a few generations…if it happens at all. The path splits and winds. Change is difficult. Those who see the possibilities are often scorned, punished, or even murdered. Today, as we watch thousands of essential workers risk their lives to keep the country and its citizens functioning, we know our faith in goodness is not misplaced. But what about those who are willing to scream derision at our heroes and the hard-won science behind them? Which direction is humankind heading—toward the healers or the screamers?

Recently, my husband and I watched the film PLEASANTVILLE in which a teen and his sister are transported into his favorite black-and-white fifties sitcom where nothing changes and everyone is…well…pleasant. Girls wear skirts; boys play football; dads go to work each day; and moms cook dinner while wearing shirtwaist dresses and heels. Through the contamination of the teens from a future reality, the citizens of the town gradually discover a life of color and awareness is preferable to empty stagnancy. As I smiled through the happy ending, I thought about how satisfying it would be to be ostracized for being different and then eventually embraced by an awakening general populace. I realized several of my favorite films—whether fictional or based on reality—suggest just such a satisfying conclusion.

When NORMA RAE (a depiction of the real Crystal Lee Jordan) first stands up for color-blind unionization in the textile mill where she works, she risks her job and her standing in the community. By the end of the film, she has the support of other workers, and Sally Field has an Academy Award. In THUNDERHEART, the biracial FBI agent assigned to assist in quelling violence on the reservation wants to pass as white. By the end of the story, he’s an honored member of the Sioux, having temporarily helped to save them from corporate poisoning and persecution (although he’s no longer welcome in the FBI). HIDDEN FIGURES elaborates on the true story of the African-American women who helped manage the math and computer programming for the first American manned flight in space. Climbing through a society that blocked progress with prejudice against their color and their gender, the accomplishments of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson enabled NASA to succeed. Finally, CHOCOLAT is a fantasy, but it’s one that appeals to me. The main character (played by Juliet Binoche) is unconventional and acts on her right to celebrate Easter not with the town’s traditional somber exclusion of outsiders but with joyful inclusion that respects everyone. The town—led by a resentful Count—eventually blossoms with support.

Yes, I’m an optimist beneath all my grumbling. I believe a happy ending society that cares about everyone and is willing to cooperate with differences isn’t a fantasy, although I’m skeptical that we’ll ever achieve full participation. Some would say working through our weaknesses, fears, and hatreds is our purpose in being born on Earth in the first place. Trials such as COVID-19, wars, dictatorial leaders, and an unhappy planet force us to earn our happy ending. (We could have a gleeful declaration of united human triumph like that in the end of INDEPENDENCE DAY.) If we don’t recognize and act on what we need to do, the planet itself may take charge. Yesterday, a TV program about ocean wildlife reminded me that Nature despises excesses, and we have an excess of humanity.

One comment on “Working Toward the Happy Ending

  1. Frances Sullivan
    April 25, 2020

    I’ll just keep on seeing a happy ending in my mind. As you noted, we often kill off people who push for compassionate, inclusive societies but I have to believe what matters most is that I follow my heart. And my heart tells me that believing in good is best. x

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