Thursday, January 27, 2005

Wide Awake 

Before M. Night Shyamalan became famous for writing and directing "The Sixth (I see dead people) Sense" and "Signs," with Mel Gibson, he wrote and directed a little film called "Wide Awake" that I happened to catch last night. The story is about a fifth grader who's beloved grandfather dies of bone cancer. The little boy (Joshua), who goes to Catholic grade school, decides to go on a quest to find and talk to God to make sure his grandfather is OK.

Let me tell you, I'm a sucker for kid movies, especially kid-on-a-quest movies like "Amazing Grace and Chuck" or "Pay it Forward." So, I lucked out here because it was only happenstance that I caught "Wide Awake." I saw Dana Delany in a movie I liked over Christmas break ("Resurrection") and since she was in "Wide Awake," I watched it, too . . . having no idea what it was about.

Anyway, the little boy, Joshua, has the normal grade school problems: bullies, weirdos, girls, and a best friend who's always getting him into trouble. When Josh tells his best friend about his quest to find God, the friend says something like, "There either is no God or else He doesn't care about people, just look at all the suffering in the world, look at all the bad things that happen for no reason." But Josh continues, asking questions of his parents, his nun-teachers, his priest and even seeking out a Cardinal (in a restroom). Josh searches for God on the Internet and investigates all manner of religious ideas throughout his 5th grade year until everyone at school knows about his quest. Finally, near the end of the year, Josh walks in on his daredevil friend (who was always missing school for various, rather-fake, health reasons) having a massive undiagnosed epileptic seizure. Josh gives up his quest having never found God and realizing his friend was right about bad things happening to good people.

But then, slowly, we begin to understand. We look at the drudgery the nuns and the priests go through at the school all day, every day. We look at the bully and the weirdos. We look at Joshua's family and we realize that his quest led him to understand the bully and show him kindness, his quest led him to show the weirdos kindness and friendship, his quest brought moments of inspiration to his teachers and his priest and his parents. (During confession to his priest: "Can we just talk? How do you know He's really there? Where can I find Him?") Finally, his daredevil friend, who had told him constantly his quest was pointless and making him look crazy, told him from his hospital bed that he was afraid, for the first time, he was afraid, "Don't give up your quest, Josh. Look, it was a miracle that you walked in on me, you never come over when I miss school, but you came over that day and found me."

Each of the students give a "What happened to me in 5th grade" essay at the end of the movie. Josh writes something like this: "Before this year, bullies were just bullies, weirdos were just weird, daredevils were never afraid, and people I loved never died. It was as if I was asleep and didn't realize what was going on around me... but now, now I'm wide awake."

I find the story inspiring, and even if I'm not a child and even if it's a little harder for a grown up to ask questions and quest for God . . . I find myself thinking of my own extended family and my own co-workers and my own RCIA teachers. How might my own quest effect them? How might discussing impossible-to-answer questions allow God into their (and my) life? Just how much am I missing? Just how sleepy am I?

A decent question to ask of Eutychus who did, after all, fall asleep out of a third story window and die while Paul was preaching. A good question to ask of Eutychus who was, after all, brought back to life from the dead.

I wonder if his first question was, "What did I miss?" I wonder if he said, "Well, I'm wide awake now!"

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