I would like to read this book.
Sunshine Cleaning, 2009
Starring Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, and Steve Zahn.
Synopsis (From IMDB):
Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) finds herself a single mother attempting to support her son Oscar (Jason Spevack) and her unreliable sister Norah (Emily Blunt) while working a mundane job as a maid. Once the head cheerleader in school with plenty of prospects, Rose now has little to show for her years, and while she still sees the former lead football player (Steve Zahn), it is little more than a despondent affair. When Oscar is expelled from public school, Rose takes a job as a bio-hazard crime-scene cleaner to help pay for a private education, and brings Norah on to help in her steadily growing business. As the sisters work to clean up the messes left behind by the chaotic lives of others, they must learn to reconcile their own differences and overcome a troubled past if they hope to prosper in their newfound venture.
I do not know why I have been attracted to watching films which have centered around death lately. Perhaps that is what life and spirituality are all about: to prepare us for death and encourage us to make the most of the time we have on earth.
Sunshine Cleaning focusses on people who have struggled with making the most out of life. It is revealed throughout the film that there are actually a lot of unresolved issues as well as grief- burdens that justifiably have weighed on these very real, and very relatable characters- which explain why it has been hard for them to thrive. This films does an excellent job of feeling real, like you could actually know these people. They do not have superpowers, they are not uncommenly witty, things do not work out magically for them. Instead, they are people like you or me who have to struggle with work and with daily life.
Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) immediately captures your heart. She tries to keep upbeat despite having a lousy job, raising a child alone, and having to care for her quirky father, and her nare-do-well sister. She is also having an affair with her (now married) high school sweetheart. Her self esteem has taken quite a beating and her parental and financial troubles are incredibly stressful, yet she does not give up and strives to remain upbeat even if the smile is strained.
Therefore, strive to show in the human world that women are most capable and efficient, that their hearts are more tender and susceptible than the hearts of men, that they are more philanthropic and responsive toward the needy and suffering, that they are inflexibly opposed to war and are lovers of peace. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
When an opportunity presents itself Rose decides to start her own business and go into Bio-hazard Crime Scene cleaning. At first she has no idea what she is doing, but with the help of her sister and a friendly Janitorial Supply Store owner, she is able to build it up. She decides to call the business “Sunshine Cleaning” which is indicative of her outlook. Crime scenes are messy. They are full of blood and often other vile things like rotting food or trash. People look at what she does as morbid. Yet Rose looks past that to the good, of being able to help people through a hard time and making the world a little better and easier for them.
“We come into people’s lives when they’ve experienced something profound. And we help. In some small way, we help.” ~ Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams)
This is really what I would like to focus on, how to Rose this is not just a job, it’s a service. It is a way she can show people love and compassion. Crime scenes are not easy deaths. She cleans up homicides and suicides, and there are people left behind in shock dealing with the tragedy. This is juxtaposed with her prior job cleaning homes of the privileged, of partying college students. While is is the same skill set, the same technical job, cleaning the homes of the dead and removing the bio-hazards and evidence of crime takes it to another level. Any job we do, whether maid, doctor, accountant, or engineer, can be transformed into a spiritual experience when we think of the people we are serving and put them first. Rose did just that.
The education of each child is compulsory…. In addition to this wide-spread education each child must be taught a profession, art, or trade, so that every member of the community will be enabled to earn his own livelihood. Work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship… ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
And she discovered this profession in a time of her own desperation. Her son was given the ultimatum to go on behavior modifying drugs or be kicked out of school. She knew that drugging her son was not the answer and wanted to put him in a school that would better cater to his learning differences. Out of love for him she tried a new job, despite her misgivings, and discovered her love for it and the people she was able to help.
Unfortunately it was almost all taken away from her when there was fire which brunt down a clients house. Rose had been waiting for the results of her certification exam before purchasing insurance for her business, hoping a good result would lead to lower rates and therefore had no safety net. She was devastated to watch everything she had worked for, literally, go up in flames.
O SON OF MAN! Should prosperity befall thee, rejoice not, and should abasement come upon thee, grieve not, for both shall pass away and be no more. ~
Word must be conjoined with deed. You must love your friend better than yourself; yes, be willing to sacrifice yourself… I desire that you be ready to sacrifice everything for each other, even life itself… ~’Abdu’l-Bahá
Watching this film made me ask myself: Am I ready to serve? Am I ready to truly sacrifice? On this earth we all have a part to play, and what I do know is that I too am not living to my fullest capacity. I could serve with a pure heart more often, and sacrifice my time, means, and energy more fully, and help to bring a little more love and a little more peace to this world. So often when we talk about peace we think big, ending wars, but wars are just social ills scaled upward. In the Lorkowski family there were internal wars that needed a peaceful resolution. So often when we talk of love we talk of romance, but love is more than that.
I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness. ~’Abdu’l-Bahá
I can do these two things. I can conquer my thoughts of hate with thoughts of love, and I can overcome thoughts of war with thoughts of peace, and maybe in doing that bit by bit day by day, I like Rose can make the world a little better.
Henry Poole is Here, 2008
Starring Luke Wilson, Radha Mitchell, Adriana Barraza, Cheryl Hines, and George Lopez.
Synopsis (from NetFlix):
Rather than living his last days to the fullest after learning he only has six weeks left on earth, Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) cuts himself off from his fiancée and his family — and binges on Twinkies, pizza and liquor. But a fortuitous miracle and a clash with his eccentric, meddling neighbors derail Henry’s plans in director Mark Pellington’s witty black comedy.
I set this post up way back in January, when I had seen the film on the plane coming back from Israel. I knew it was a spiritually potent film, but I had gotten stuck on what exactly I had wanted to say. This film wrestles with a subject we all must face sooner or later: our mortality. I am still relatively young and people my age generally do not think about death, imagining it to be far from now, but death can come upon thee anytime unheralded.
Henry Poole had to face his death with his life still in front of him. Often it can be easier to face death if one has faith, since a belief that life continues in spiritual form after the death of the material body can be both comforting and a relief. Henry did not have faith though. If anything, his faith was lost through this test. He returned to his childhood home, bemoaning his lowly state, drinking himself into an even lower state of depression, and treating his friends and family with wrath. But we should not judge him
… for none knoweth what his own end shall be. How often hath a sinner attained, at the hour of death, to the essence of faith, and, quaffing the immortal draught, hath taken his flight unto the Concourse on high! And how often hath a devout believer, at the hour of his soul’s ascension, been so changed as to fall into the nethermost fire! ~ Bahá’u’lláh
Despite Henry Poole giving up on God, God did not give up on Henry Poole. Soon a water stain appeared on the wall of his house which looked like Jesus to those who had eyes to see. His neighbor, Esperanza (so aptly named Hope), a person of great faith soon brings all of her Catholic friends, as well as a priest to see this miracle. Henry is annoyed and angered at both their naivete, ignorance, and willful foolishness. It is just a stain and he insists on removing it. Try as he may it will not scrub off.
Esperanza is patient with him though. She knows he is suffering, and she too has suffered. The love of her life had died, leaving her alone, and when Henry learns of this he becomes more patient with her too. Esperanza through her actions is the embodiment of faith and of virtue, even if she is a bit nosy.
The virtues and attributes pertaining unto God are all evident and manifest, and have been mentioned and described in all the heavenly Books. Among them are trustworthiness, truthfulness, purity of heart while communing with God, forbearance, resignation to whatever the Almighty hath decreed, contentment with the things His Will hath provided, patience, nay, thankfulness in the midst of tribulation, and complete reliance, in all circumstances, upon Him. ~ Bahá’u’lláh
Henry’s faith is again tested when the mute, little girl from next door starts hanging around. He begins to feel for her and her mother, and when she touches the wall she begins to talk again. Her mother is over joyed, knowing that her daughters affliction had been a response to her father having left. This is a side note, but I think very important. Our actions have consequences and can effect the ones we love deeply. This little girl was abandoned by her father, and because of that feared speaking.
Henry is able to open up and to love again, despite his mortality. He finally opens up to her mother about his condition, and limited time left on earth. Unfortunately the little girl overhears, and in grief returns to muteness. This is too much for Henry to bear. It was enough that he had to be (in his eyes) cursed with dying young, but then to hurt the people he cares about was too much. In frustration, and anger, he destroys the wall, which represents to him false hope, lies, and deceit.
While anger and destruction are far from ideal, Henry was feeling powerless and not in control and by destroying the wall he was trying to take back control. Henry could not accept the Will of God, and through fighting it created even more pain for himself.
Through the entire film we watch people transform. We watch Henry grieve, and grow, and open up, then relapse, but finally transform. We watch the little girl do the same. We watch the neighbors come together. In the end, this is the purpose of religion, to transform people. It is the reason why Jesus came, in fact why every Messenger of God came, to bring hope and transformation.
And yet, is not the object of every Revelation to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions? For if the character of mankind be not changed, the futility of God’s universal Manifestations would be apparent. ~ Bahá’u’lláh
P.S. I Love You, 2007
Starring Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler, Lisa Kudrow, Gina Gershon, James Marsters, Kathy Bates, Harry Connick Jr., Nellie McKay, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
Synopsis (From IMDB):
Holly Kennedy is beautiful, smart and married to the love of her life – a passionate, funny, and impetuous Irishman named Gerry. So when Gerry’s life is taken by an illness, it takes the life out of Holly. The only one who can help her is the person who is no longer there. Nobody knows Holly better than Gerry. So it’s a good thing he planned ahead. Before he died, Gerry wrote Holly a series of letters that will guide her, not only through her grief, but in rediscovering herself. The first message arrives on Holly’s 30th birthday in the form of a cake, and to her utter shock, a tape recording from Gerry, who proceeds to tell her to get out and “celebrate herself”. In the weeks and months that follow, more letters from Gerry are delivered in surprising ways, each sending her on a new adventure and each signing off in the same way; P.S. I Love You. Holly’s mother and best friends begin to worry that Gerry’s letters are keeping Holly tied to the past, but in fact, each letter is pushing her further into a new future. With Gerry’s words as her guide, Holly embarks on a journey of rediscovery in a story about marriage, friendship and how a love so strong can turn the finality of death into a new beginning for life.
So often in film weddings we hear the lines echoed “until death do us part” but in both P.S. I Love You as well as in the Baha’i concept of marriage this is not the case. A true marriage is more than a physical union but is also a spiritual union. If a marriage is not a spiritual union then it is bound to end, which I discussed in my last post. But what if it is a true union? It lasts for eternity, beyond death.
In Holly and Gerry’s case he made sure to love her and guide her beyond death through preparation of recordings, letters, and gifts throughout Holly’s year of mourning. Throughout the film in the beginning Holly feels is presence as if he is still there, then gradually that fades to memories, until finally Gerry is no longer seen. This could be because Gerry’s soul must move on…
“Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God” ~ Bahá’u’lláh
However, how valid is Holly’s experience? She felt that in addition to the explicit signs Gerry had prepared to be sent to her via intermediaries, there were other signs more subtle that were from beyond. We have all heard tales or perhaps experienced ourselves whether dreaming or waking the presence of loved ones who have passed on.
While we cannot understand fully death and life, there is a wonderful metaphor that has helped me when thinking about it. A baby in a womb is both in this world and not in this world at the same time. We can feel it kick through its mother’s skin, and can talk to it, yet the connection is tenuous at best. Perhaps this world is like our giant womb, and then loved ones who have passed on to it able to sing to us, and touch us indirectly as easily as we can an unborn child. Perhaps this is also why we struggle in this world, to prepare for the next.
“You ask an explanation of what happens to us after we leave this world: This is a question which none of the Prophets have ever answered in detail, for the very simple reason that you cannot convert to a person’s mind something entirely different from everything they have ever experienced. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave the wonderful example of the relation of this life to the next life being like the child in the womb; it develops eyes, ears, hands, feet, a tongue, and yet it has nothing to see or hear, it cannot walk or grasp things or speak; all these faculties it is developing for this world. If you tried to explain to an embryo what this world is like could never understand- but it understands when it is born, and its faculties can be used. So we cannot picture our state in the next world. All we know is that our consciousness, our personality, endures in some new state, and that that world is as much better than this one as this one is better than the dark womb of our mother was…”
(On behalf of the Guardian, Lights of Guidance, p. 208-209)
Films like this help us all process grieving and allow for contemplation over life, death, and marriage. Holly and Gerry’s marriage was not perfect, but they were willing to sacrifice for one another and truly did love each other.