Thursday, November 15, 2007

Is Helping Really Helping?

I watched Reign Over Me today with Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle. It was good but slow to suck me in but I think that was because, alas, I was watching it at home. (Reign Over Me was the last movie I tried to go see in the theater with Vivi when she was a newishborn [She was 5 weeks old and about 6 minutes into the movie at this quiet moment, she made one squawk which freaked me out that I was being the hypocritical mom - who - brings - her - own - noisy - baby - but - grumbles - at - others - who - do - the - same. It was like a Monday 11:50 am showing with maybe 10 other people in the theater so it was probably fine but I'm neurotic enough--yet, clearly aware of my own neuroses-- that I knew I would be unable to focus on the movie for fear that she'd make any sort of peep.]) Since then, it's been on my queue and I finally moved it up to the top (I swear, if I even look at my netflix queue, I have to reorganize it. It's not a compulsion. It's my way of simulating the spontaneity of having a sudden urge to see movie X, which prior to netflix, I'd either go pick up at the DVDVD store [When Will was about 3, he started saying that because our video store was a locally owned--I loathe Blockbuster; don't get me started. It's a whole thing.-- place and on the brick above the storefront instead of saying their name, it just said DVD VIDEO and he was in that reading - all - the - store - signs - while - in - the - car - phase and misspoke and it stuck.] or impulse buy it.)

Interesting theme I found in Reign Over Me was the idea of helping other people. Obviously, when we try to help someone, it's in an attempt to make things better for them, solve a problem, make that person feel better. And yet, how do we as individuals know if what we think is going to help them, actually will? Don Cheadle's character, Alan, in a sincere attempt to help Adam Sandler's character, Charlie, move forward from the horrible tragedy of losing his wife and three children in one of the 9/11 plane crashes, encourages him to talk about it after suppressing the memories for years. In the end, Charlie does, but then is so emotionally overwrought that he wants to kill himself. Likewise, Charlie's dead wife's parents have been trying to reach out to him in an effort to keep contact with the only family they have left connected to their daughter but they don't allow him the space and time to handle it in his own way.

On the surface, all of these people's efforts to help Charlie seem good and I think if I were in one of their positions, I would do something similar and yet, is it the right thing for Charlie? It is so easy in life to think we know what is best for other people, be it our kids, our spouses, our friends, whomever. And yet, we don't always know. Sometimes we do, from our own similar life experiences and whatever personal wisdom we may or may not have. (Hopefully, with our children, especially.)

And yet, time and again in my own personal experience, I find that people are not quite who I thought they were. Even my close family and friends sometimes surprise me with what they think and do. And I'm reminded that I have my own center, that place where I'm coming from, that which affects all my decisions, actions, words and makes me me. Just because I expect other people to act and react like I would, they do not. They are who they are and what they say and do is from their perspective and the sum of all their life experiences. It's like trying to have a conversation with your spouse about that off-white couch you liked. You know, the one with the high back and firm cushions. No, it was low-backed with lots of squishy pillows. No, it wasn't. That was the ecru one. Ecru, off-white. Whatever. Whatever? Our own interpretations of the meanings of words often makes communicating and being honest difficult which can lead to disappointment and confusion (not to mention being pissed off). Then add in our own personality quirks and it's a wonder we ever manage to feel like we know anyone. And it only seems to get murkier as I get older. I guess it's like that cliche about being smarter than your parents at 18 because you knew you knew everything then. There are people I used to know at 20, that I've come to realize I had absolutely no idea. Rand and I call this phenomenon People Are Weird. You have a friend that seems normal, fun, nice, shy, whatever. And then one day something happens and you discover the real them. Or at least a glimpse. And you're just shocked. It's like finding out they are an alien being who's been posing as a human all this time. I swear. It's just like that.

My dad, for example, is an amazing person and usually the most reasonable, logical individual I know. He's the person who calmly says what makes sense and people listen. But, like all of us, even he has his What was that about? hot buttons. The difference is, mine are big and shiny with flashing lights that say Push Me! (Just ask Rand.) whereas his are so well camouflaged that you don't know you've found one until you inadvertantly trip on it and set it off. Ok, so Pop's always been really cool. He was the one who would encourage my sisters and I to wear bikinis when we were teenagers and would take us to see R-rated movies when we were 14-15, saying we were mature enough to understand (and we'd talk about the themes afterward). He always compliments us girls (my mom included. Us Girls always meant everyone but him, being the sole male in my house growing up!) on how beautifully we look, reminds us to put on lipstick. He still sees practically every movie that is released, including The Matrix, Borat, Knocked Up. And he rivals my husband on his knowledge of pop (yuck-yuck!) culture. He knows all the celebrities and such in addition to what's going on in the world politically. My point is, for a 61-year old man, he's pretty damn hip.

Getting back to my alien-in-disguise analogy: One Christmas maybe 5 or so years ago, when Rand, the boys, and I flew to my folks' for Christmas, my baby sister (I'm guessing she was 17 or 18 at the time?) was toying with the idea of dying her hair red. She has beautiful, thick medium-brown hair and was interested in trying something different. I've always thought she looked like a cross between Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles & Claire Danes. Remember Danes in My So-Called Life? (awesome show, by the way. I got so sucked into it that I read the on line fan fiction of someone that continued the story where Brian is put in the hospital and you find out he has cancer or something. It was so true to the characters that when I rewatched all the episodes I was devastated to find the show ended as she drives off in the car with Jordan, looking at Brian, and everything after that was imagined by this writer.) Anyway, Angela dyed her hair Crimson Glow and my sister and I thought she'd look great with a similar color. Now, I'm a natural blonde but once I was pregnant, those damn hormones darkened my hair more than I was willing to accept so I started to enhance it with highlights. My middle sister does the same, and even my mother who is a brunette colors her how to give it a little added umph. The point is, my father is not new to the idea of coloring hair and he likes all the rest of ours. But for some reason the 'I want to color my hair red' triggered his largest yet most well camouflaged hot button--we'll call it the flaming torch button-- and he totally flipped out (which, to be fair, for my father is pretty calm compared to other people). Still, he ended up reading way too much into it, about her not being content with being who she is because she wanted to change herself. Which makes me chuckle, given 10 years of increasingly blonde highlights and Rand's not funny jokes about maybe I should change my driver's license to say Hair: Brown since I'm not really a blond anymore, not really. Which is not only untrue but mean as well. (And only if you, too, are a natural blond that is gradually darkening as an adult, can you truly feel my pain.)

Point is. You think you know people, and no matter how well you do, you still don't really. Not even with your mate, sometimes. So, reciprocally, no one really knows the real you either. Ahhh, but that's a whole other (That phrase is hard to type. I keep saying 'a whole nother' in my mind) blogworthy topic.


  1. Oh, the pain of blond gone brown! My sister, Laura, who has not been blond in my lifetime, still regards herself as a blond. I relived my mom's insult/injury situation with her mother-in-law at a cocktail party shortly after Zoe was born. "Rae Ann, I really like that new dark color you have put on your hair." Sigh.

  2. Ok, I realize that I'm now compulsively commenting archives, which is lame (or awesome?), but I just have to say that I'm so glad I'm not the only person with the uncontrollable-nesting-parenthesized(Is that a word?)-side-comments writing style.