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“You aren’t a real grandma. You swear and you don’t make cookies.” In the wonderful film MINARI about an immigrant family from South Korea adjusting to life as Arkansas farmers, the little boy David is disgusted when his grandmother arrives from Korea to join them. He had particular expectations and the old woman who shares his bedroom doesn’t meet them.
A grandmother myself, I had occasion to think about fitting into the preconceived notions of others this week. Many years ago, my birth family, that had once prided itself on being emotionally close and mutually supportive under the umbrella of liberal religious teachings, broke into three pieces. Two of the pieces walked into the deep ruts of churches that felt confident they possessed the answers to life and an obligation to judge if not control the lives of outsiders. I was suddenly a misfit, the third broken piece. On their deathbeds, both my loving parents were compelled to bequeath me the sorrowful admonition that they would never see me again since they were bound for Heaven while I would be in Hell for not adhering to their doctrine. My error lies in my being an independent, well-educated thinker, persistently open to new awareness. I confess I’m a reformed people-pleaser, an individual.
A true individual in MINARI is Paul, a white veteran of the Korean War, who is a joke to the community for his flamboyant interpretation of Christianity. Wherever he may be, he bursts out with shouts in tongues and praise to God as the spirit moves him. He carries a cross down the road every Sunday as his church. Locals mock him for being crazy and poor, but his good heart and loyalty as a hired hand are essential to the survival of the new farm.
Meanwhile, Soonja, the grandmother in MINARI, brings traditional remedies and a feisty spirit to the family situation. She does, indeed, swear and teach the kids how to play a card game similar to poker. But she also understands how to encourage her grandchildren to grow as people, and when she inadvertently causes what could be a disaster, it turns out to be a turning point that rescues the family from impending destruction. She models resilience and unconditional love. COVID-19 should be reminding us that we may be surprised to discover which people and experiences end up being most important in our lives.
Horrific acts against LGBTQ, blacks, Asians, and Jews distract us from the observation that many in modern America believe they would feel most comfortable in a society that stays within the lines of their expectations ad infinitum. And what do you do when you’re rejected by the very people who have the most reason to love you? First, you understand your wounds aren’t actually about you. Insecurity makes people easy to manipulate. They‘re told by their opinion leaders they’re doing good. Lacking their understanding, you honor yourself. You celebrate that you’re here to bring the unique, not-perfect presence of the being you are to our human condition—hopefully to reinforce truth, resilience, hope, and—above all—unconditional love. As for me, I both swear and make cookies—one more than the other. I’m real.