Following in the tradition of Spellbound (about kids participating in a national spelling bee) and Word Wars (about Scrabble players), the charming small-scale documentary Wordplay captures the fervor with which many Americans approach the New York Times daily crossword puzzle.
“Each time that we have some pain to go through, we can say to ourselves quite truly that it is the universe, the order and beauty of the world, and the obedience of creation to God that are entering our body. After that, how can we fail to bless with tenderest gratitude the Love that sends us this gift?” —Simone Weil
The pathology report an icon; the tissue staining the slide, God’s kaleidoscope. And those cells, obeying their DNA, cosmic dust as they whirl and split. Why not praise cancer, relentless, blind, that seeks and finds the lymph and blood? Because I am unthankful, rude. Because if I linger over this gift, I will change, I will vanish from the earth. In Russia, an icon of Mary has wept for twenty years. Mary, do you see my nuclei mutating, like words in “whisper down the lane”? This same God took your son away. Help me disobey.
Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion is such a deconstructionist’s dream that you almost expect the late Jacques Derrida to make a cameo appearance. Talk about reality’s insubstantiality: here we have the cinematic version of a beloved radio program, now over three decades old, whose sly conceits play on a homespun America that barely existed.
On the scaffold twenty meters up tracing her head in the damp plaster, Michelangelo knows it’s going to take more than a breath to make Adam drop his can’t-be-bothered pose, too bored to stand even at God’s charged arrival, held aloft by a crew of hard-working cherubs who struggle to maintain lift long enough for contact to occur: a critical maneuver of the right hand complicated by the added weight of Eve on whom His left arm rests. Drops of paint freckle his face as he wonders how many priests will take offense but concludes that only skin to skin will do. Without it, Adam’s forever grounded. God’s touch is first. Hers is next.
I’ll always remember the sweltering night in Missouri, the pulsing din of the katydids, the prairie grass stretching away on the other side of the trees. In the dark woods across the pond, a lost calf bleats its anguish— six times, then eight, then six again. I sit at the camp table listening, as so many nights before. In the tent, sleeping, the boy, now thirteen, the woman, after twenty-seven years. Moths and greenbugs attack the lantern, flapping crazily. Before I finish tonight they will land in the halo of the hot gas light, diligently search out the lantern’s air vents and incinerate themselves. In the morning I will brush away the fine white ash. This is not a fitting metaphor for any human aspiration. The light we are seeking is not the kind that destroys those who seek it. True, the bright burning gas tempts us sometimes. I know, I know. There are nights when we feel that bad. I turn the valve of the lantern to off and wait for my vision to adjust to the darkness. The almost inaudible breathing from the tent comforts me. I think of us sitting on the shore as the last sunlight seeped from the sky, watching the boy cast his fishing line again and again out into the pond, catching nothing except happiness. The light we are seeking catches all the world in the shooting arc of the outthrown line, never to be lost, not bounded by night, dangerous only to death.
My neighbor scrapes old paint from the fence around his pasture, an annual chore he attends to, for he knows the white he applies revives each slat. I think of his recent essay, peeling back the layers, as he said, of online education, revealing a barren base devoid of the body’s subtle gestures— how a screen cannot replicate confusion written on a brow, engagement flashing in the eyes, or a hand touching a shoulder. How a cursor cannot translate the voice’s inflections, nuanced as the nod of his head, greeting me, while he lays down his tool to rub my dog’s ears, while he motions toward the remaining wood, tells how he’ll finish the job before winter.
Nathan Eckstrom teaches English in the Boston Public Schools, one of the most diverse school systems in the country. Its more than 9,000 students come from about 100 countries, and they speak more than 80 languages. Instead of taking a vacation this past summer, Eckstrom went to Haiti to find the places where several of his students live and to visit their extended families. He knows that he will be able to make better connections with his Haitian students after learning about their culture and country. Over the past ten years, Boston teachers have made similar trips to Cape Verde, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, and other countries. Fund for Teachers, a Houston-based nonprofit, helps fund these trips (Boston Globe, September 12).