In the most recent Presidential debate, the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, invoked the 2012 Steven Spielberg film, Lincoln. I remember watching and enjoying the film, quite literally, in a packed theater in Northern Ireland and was glad for the opportunity to think back to what the movie taught me. It wasn’t surprising that Spielberg told part of Lincoln’s story well, exposing the man’s flaws or struggles and including Lincoln’s tenuous family relationships during the height of political tension. Dialogue played a central role in the film, which is probably as it should be with such a brilliant rhetorician as Lincoln. One of the surprises of the film was, of course, that it was Republicans who led the charge to free the slaves. It was the sort of film that gave me goosebumps, that even made me proud (and also saddened) to be an American. Good stories, if we let them, will break our hearts while giving us enough hope to carry on. Though I haven’t followed through, I left the theater that day wanting to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Bible-of-a-book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.
I in a house with two guys who are slightly younger than me. My block is in a part of the city that has an ify reputation, but my neighbors look out for each other. Many of those neighbors are involved in a church a couple blocks away that is known for a variety of creative projects: a community garden, a daycare, a book review, and a Community Development Corporation that takes on a variety of housing initiatives throughout the neighborhood. While it is not a church I personally attend, I have a lot of respect for what they do, and I hang out with congregants from there regularly.
Last fall, I did some substitute teaching while I looked for a full-time job. One day I was working at a school in the north part of the city. It was a beautiful fall day, and I had an abnormally long lunch break, so I decided to take a walk. I knew I was close to a trail that cuts through a large portion of the city, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to get there. So I started walking east, cutting through side streets as necessary.
I was in my parents’ living room the first time I tried to watch Magnolia. For as long as I can remember, my family has done this thing when we watch movies together. Right at the most emotional or romantic moment in the film, someone will pat the left part of his or her chest and say, as dramatically as possible, “Gets ya right here.” Then someone else would repeat it and pretty soon no one would be watching the movie anymore. We would even do this when guests were around.
It was not until I read Bessel Van Der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score that I began to consciously make some of the connections that had been swirling in my head for years. Van Der Kolk makes the clinical and scientific case that our bodies and our brains are deeply altered by trauma. He goes as far as suggesting that childhood trauma “is “arguably the greatest threat to our national well-being,” an assessment I’ve come to agree with.