I wear glasses. I eat a lot of chips. I haven’t seen anything clearly in years.
My glasses are in various states of smudginess throughout the day. But the funny thing is, I usually don’t even notice until my husband pretends his fingers are windshield wipers and comically swishes them across my gritty spectacles. He usually says something like, “Good God, woman, how can you see anything?” At which point I just laugh and remark that after a while, I don’t even notice. It’s easy to get used to seeing the world a certain way. But when I actually clean my glasses, the world looks so much better, so much brighter, that my whole mood can change. Restored sight is a beautiful thing.
So what do my greasy glasses have to do with Hollywood? Well, for me – everything.
In her book, A Small Rain, my favorite author, Madeleine L’Engle writes about a character who says he washes windows for a living. When pressed further, he discloses that he is a pianist, and that he believes great art washes the windows of our souls, giving us a glimpse into something greater, helping us see God and one another more clearly. It is based on a scripture in the New Testament, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” In other words, it’s hard in this life to see clearly – there’s a lot of dirt and grime (prejudices, fear, pain and anger) that gunk up the windows of our spirit. And like me growing accustomed to my smudged glasses, we don’t always notice it ourselves – sometimes we need someone to point it out for us, to rub our gunky glasses on their shirt and give us a glimpse of how beautiful the world really is, and how alike we all are in what really matters.
I believe movies at their best can do just that – they can be a soft cloth to wipe away our cloudy judgments.
Not only can a great film help us see others and the world around us more clearly – the best ones can help us to get a better view of ourselves as well. There are times when that silver screen becomes a mirror, reflecting deep dreams we may have buried under years of grimy doubt, showing us the potential we forgot we have. When we see a story of redemption unfold in living color (or even black and white) before our eyes, we are reminded and that forgiveness is possible, new starts are achievable, and if we believe we can overcome any circumstance. Just look at Rudy or George Bailey, Andy Dufrain or even Ron Burgundy – we root for them because we see a piece of ourselves in them. And so we are inspired when they reflect back a clear vision of what we could be.
Who of us hasn’t been beat up by life and misunderstood by others? Who of us hasn’t failed something or someone? We’ve all messed up and hoped it wouldn’t be the thing that defines us. Each failure and disappointment is like mud flung at the windshield, or so many bug splats – after a while, our view becomes limited. Where we used to have a clear window to the road ahead, now it may seem there is no path at all. That’s where discouragement sets in. But a great movie (book, song, or painting) can wipe away that gunk, even for just a fleeting moment, and remind us there’s a whole world beyond what is directly in our view. The wipers pull back the muck revealing a glimpse of he road just beyond, and we are encouraged to keep moving forward.
At least those are the kinds of movies I hope to write. When I am pondering whether to take a project or not, I like to determine the Windex factor. Does it have the potential to clean some windows? To show a view we may not have seen before? Will it help reflect the beauty of life a little more clearly? Might it wash away the dirt of isolation with the clear waters of compassion? I hope that while I may be a screenwriter by trader, I’ll always be a glass cleaner by vocation. Because I know from experience that it feels pretty great to put on a fresh pair of sparkling spectacles.
This is a poem my brother wrote for me over a decade ago, before I was even a professional writer – back when I was just dreaming that I might be so fortunate some day. It serves as a reminder to me, of how far I have come, and how far I still want to go; as well as being a reminder to keep cleaning my glasses. It has a special place in my office now and has become something of a mission statement for me.
light smudged across
a wash of diffusion-
for now we see but a poor reflection,
on the otherside, outlines:
the semblance of faeries
we remember not how to claim,
a foot suspended above the living sea
it’s you who would dip her pen
tracing these shapes for us
in dimming streaks of clarity
excavate the pictures
of what we once were,
but failed to become;
engrave for us the lines