Octo Observations: Love Actually in 2020

In case you are looking for escapism his summer, treat yourself to Love Actually, a  marvelous movie made in 2003. It stars Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Kiera Knightley and a host of other delightful stars. Having watched it one rainy afternoon with my hubby, we agreed that this movie brought a dose of sunshine into our lives. 

Mentally we are needing “to change our channels.” These last several months have been especially challenging….as they have been for millions all around the world. 

While watching the movie I realized yet again the importance of surrounding ourselves with people we love. I also realized the importance of sharing love with those whose lives may be lonely. It doesn’t take much effort. But it does require awareness. How easy it is to wallow unwittingly in negativity incurred by Covid-19 quarantine, by the massive divisiveness in our country, and by a pervading atmosphere of despair and frustration.

So what is the antidote for gloom? Clearly we have to create that panacea ourselves. It requires conscious effort. It means looking at “the cup half full instead of half empty.” Just the simple act of watching a lighthearted and uplifting movie which depicts all kinds of love in action is a good kick start! The message of LOVE is what inspired this article. It made me think about people of all ages and stages of life showing examples of love anywhere at any time.

Early this morning I finished reading Surviving in the Forest by Israeli author Adiva Geffen. Her stunning book is based upon the true experiences of a young Jewish Polish woman who survived WWII with members of her family. For four years she, her husband, two little ones and parents hid from the Nazis in hand dug bunkers deep in the Parcwez forest in Poland. So many impossible hardships, so many cold, hungry nights, so many frightening near misses of annihilation by vicious Nazi soldiers. Such enormous courage, such selfless love and such tender moments of heart-wrenching  loss and  courage. And, oh, what disbelief that a loaf of bread could bribe a non-Jewish Pole to reveal the hiding places of their once beloved Jewish countrymen. Selfless greed or was it survival by any means?

To read about this young mother on the cusp of a beautiful life, coping with a toddler, giving birth to a newborn unable to survive the rigors of hunger and primitive living, and a husband’s heroic efforts to shelter and feed his family gave me utter goosebumps. Surka’s indefatigable spirit was unbreakable. Her selfless love knew no limits, and her courage to survive even after the deaths of her baby, her parents, and her husband exemplify strength few of us in today could fathom.

During this disconcerting, unsettled time in our country, I am compelled to read books that teach me more about WWII heroes and heroines. They elucidate the contrast between then and now. During the War, no matter how much evil was inflicted by the Nazis, valiant persecuted people maintained their determination to survive and to protect others. No matter how many historical fiction books I read, there is always a new story to tell. Each contains a message to emulate in our lives today. Indomitable courage. Indomitable, selfless love: only two of the most salient lessons gleaned from the war-torn world of the 1930s and early to mid 1940s.

Loving someone more than you love yourself, or perhaps loving yourself enough in order to shower those near and dear to you with love is a significant sign of maturity. Most of us spend our entire lives learning this lesson. Many of us never find  the answers to life’s mysteries. But I do know that we cannot stop learning or trying to achieve a higher degree of imparting love.

The other night we enjoyed a delightful socially distanced porch supper with our older son and three of his golf buddies who drove to Richmond from Connecticut. A wonderfully diverse group, plus two hours of delicious food and conversation. One genial gentleman was the compassionate senior minister of our son and his family’s historic Congregational church. Jeff has served it for twenty years. In the language of any church, that is a  very long time to stay with one congregation. He has wrapped our son and his darling family into his warm embrace. He has baptized two of our three  granddaughters…and like their older sister, they are beautiful girls.

The other glorious man, a New Zealander, born and raised in that country brought his dear 27 year-old scratch golfer son. Captivating personalities, possessing gentile manners and thoughtful deference to us “old guys.” As our son Sam later said to me, “I don’t make friends with jerks!!” (Actually, he used a more colorful term, but I will spare you that!!) How happy we were to be included in the evening. The conversation flowed like water over Niagara Falls…and the time flew.  Later, Sam texted his siblings, “Mom was STARVED for social interaction!” He was 100% right!!

What I learned from these vibrant men is much needed renewed optimism. What I loved was hearing our New Zealander and learned scholar say most eloquently that he has “great hope” for America and  our young generation. “They are learning to live and survive a difficult time, to savor the little things around them. As a result they are gaining skills that will see them through their lives.” Paul said it much better than I….but he feels that out of all this Covid-19 chaos and political unrest  the vital importance of love will emerge. He thinks that young people who have had to leave college or put their lives on hold and are spending quarantined months with their families are acquiring empathy for others, are learning to love more fully. He is convinced they will become strong leaders of the future.  Heartening news!!

By the same token Jeff, the seasoned and beloved minister, said this is the time for “building anew”….. to find JOY, to address our values…to reach out in love to those who are feeling left out. He also affirmed my belief that ministers or “men of the cloth” should tread carefully, avoiding sermons on political issues. I shared with him that our new interim minister has leaped in with both feet to impart his views about BLM and the chaos enveloping our city of Richmond. While some agree that he has a voice to be heard, others strongly disagree. I believe in separation of Church and State.

What was most palpable for me was that amid the earnest, meaningful conversation, I felt comfortable to participate freely. I felt energized, informed and uplifted. I also loved the quiet yet spot-on insights interjected by my husband, an 85 year old man of sterling character. I also loved hearing our first-born son encourage interactive conversation, as a forever and gracious host. A mom likes that trait….and secretly smiles at her son’s quick, inimitable wit!

One last hope, and a very personal one: I would wish that the time arrives sooner rather than later when we of different political parties can learn to listen  to each other with grace, equanimity and open minds. I am saddened by the anger all around us, and  it saddens me that the subject of politics can drive a wedge between friends. I feel a lump in my throat whenever I hear people attack each other for their God-given right to believe as they choose. I struggle with being dismissed because I may have something to say that is unwelcome. We cannot invoke the true meaning of love unless we learn to listen better and with more kindness. Don’t you agree that respectful discourse leads to greater love?

When we wrap up this difficult, unexpected year, I hope the future portends positively. I hope that instead of malingering over the awfulness of the newspaper headlines and contentious media banter, we can each step back and remember how lucky we are to be alive…..to know that each day scientists are working non-stop to find an effective vaccine, that restricted though we are, we can still  count our blessings. And each of us over the age of 18 has the inalienable right to voice his/her opinion at the polls in November…with no fear of reprisal. 

As the theme song of Love Actually replays in my head, I sing with gusto,  “Love IS All Around Us.”

A closing quote by Pope Francis to ponder:

“ Rivers do not drink their own water; trees do not eat their own fruit; the sun does not shine on itself and flowers do not spread their fragrance for themselves. Living for others is a rule of nature. We are all born to help each other. No matter how difficult  it is…..Life is good when you are happy  but much better when others are happy because of you.”

Yes! LOVE IS THE ANSWER!!  Find it and embrace it!!

Top photo: Bigstock