Bridge of Spies: Critiquing the Film and Reviewing the History

Movie Poster "Bridge of Spies"When I first volunteered to “do something on the film Bridge of Spies” for the July meeting of the Cold War Symposium, I knew a film critique would be fun to do, and my audience would learn new information on how to watch a movie. But the military part? I had zero military experience other than watching movies like “Saving Private Ryan” and “We Were Soldiers,” or reading books like Tim O’Brian’s classical work of American Literature, “The Things They Carry.” Family dinners where fathers, uncles, cousins, and brothers expounded on their military stories had added to my meager knowledge. But for the history part of July’s discussion, I would have to draw on experiences from the audience—those that had ‘been there.’

First the film review. Bridge of Spies (2015) takes place during the Cold War. James B. Donovan, played by Tom Hanks, is recruited to defend a Soviet spy (Rudoph Abel, played by Mark Rylance. Hanks is able to avoid the death penalty for his client, but then he helps the CIA arrange an exchange of Abel for Francis Gary Powers, an American U2 spy plane pilot.

The film opens in silence with Rudolph Abel painting a self-portrait.  The scene is designed to introduce a theme of the film—how we see ourselves, what we hide from others—and is patterned after Norman Rockwell’s Triple Self Portrait. Donovan is the center of the film as a man for whom ethics prevailed. In an attempt to save Abel from the death penalty, Donovan gives the argument that Abel might be a good bargaining chip later on. And he was, of course, when he was traded for Gary Powers. One of the most powerful scenes is when Donovan refuses to violate attorney-client privilege and to give information on Abel to an FBI agent. “We don’t have a rule book here,” says the agent. Donovan comes back with, “What makes us Americans is we do have a rule book, and it’s called the Constitution.” Their back and forth dialogue on constitutional rights versus security issues gives the viewer plenty to ponder.

Critiques give the film high ratings for historical accuracy in spite of staging oversights like the appearance of satellite dishes on the rooftops in New York. Three former U2 pilots who were in the audience gave a tolerant thumbs-up on directorial decisions that helped the storyline or narrative tension in the film. Col. Retired George Freese, Lt. Col. Retired Jack Stebe, and Brig Gen Retired David Patton (all residents of SaddleBrooke) spoke to their experiences, as much as they could, as U2 pilots. Bill Lay, also of SaddleBrooke and attending the symposium, was the officer in charge at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin 1961-63. He was present at the exchange of Abel and Powers. No, Abel and Powers did not shake hands at the exchange, as the movie portrayed.

If you would like to read Donovan’s own account, pick up Strangers on a Bridge (Scribner,1964; reissued August 2015), 25-26.

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Create Your Own Light

darkness_edited-2On a very dark day of my soul, I created a very dark page in my art journal. Swirls of black and blue filled the center of the image. My sadness and anger traveled through the brush with broad sweeping strokes onto the page. Then I lost control. Reacting, not planning, I dipped my brush into an aqua blue, then some white, then some yellow. I dove into the painting and felt hope emerging from the light in the center. The anger and frustration that I wrestled with that day couldn’t survive in the light of the sun.

Here’s what I wrote underneath the image I created:

In the darkness, turn to the light. If there is no light, create some. Dig deep in your soul for a glimmer of hope that can grow into an ember, then a flame, then a lamp–fed by hope and determination.

Odd. The darkness lifted.

 

 

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Make the Bed

 

Recent stuscreen-shot-2017-01-13-at-9-32-50-amdies show that people who make their beds sleep better at night. But on rebellious days, when I decide NOT to make my bed, I feel powerful, in charge, not to be controlled by the voices in my head. Until I feel guilty. And that happens pretty quickly.

In my small house, I can see the bedroom from almost every vantage point. The disheveled sheets, the shams on the floor, the bedspread lazily crumpled, all point their cottony and judgmental fingers at me. What? Are you really going to leave us like this?! You use us, then get dressed and walk away as if we meant nothing to you?

I last about an hour, or two.

The voices in my head remind me of world order. Morning comes before noon, life occurs before death, if you don’t eat you’ll get hungry, if you smile at people they will most likely smile back, a made bed shows that the owner is prepared for the day.

It’ll just take a second, I tell myself. I straighten the sheets and blankets, pull up the bedspread, make sure the edges are level on both sides, place and plump the pillows.  All’s right again with the world.

Now, about the ironing hanging on the back of the laundry room door, out of sight, beckoning me with wrinkled collars and creased hems. Not a problem…until I have run out of no-press clothes.

But I sleep very well.

 

 

 

 

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Row, Row, Row Your Boat!

There is a Chinese proverb that says “When the student is willing, the teacher appears.” Teachers, in the form of little angels, appear from nowhere, giving us direction when we don’t realize we need direction. And at the exact time when we are willing to learn what it is we need to learn. And we may not even know we are willing.

This is what happened to me today when I saw a video on Facebook, that hog of time that occaScreen Shot 2016-08-05 at 9.03.38 AMsionally yields a three minute eureka. This is a video from Prince Ea. Never heard of him before. But what a prize. The person who originally posted this gem of heavenly advice was an angel who made Prince Ea my teacher. I want to share with you. Namaste.

The Shocking Meaning of Row, Row, Row Your Boat

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50th High School Reunions and Other Lessons

class photo

Photo from 45th Reunion

Short of losing thirty pounds and having whole body plastic surgery, I was ready for my 50th High School Reunion. My Tucson friends said, “They are on the same aging journey as you. You’ll have a great time. People will be glad to see you. ”

Yes, people were genuinely glad to see me as I was to see them, but little do they know the gifts they gave me beyond the ego satisfying greetings. My former classmates brought their LIVES with them–disappointments, losses, gains, loves, travels, plans. There was an intimacy from those discussions that was devoid of the need to please, impress or judge. My thirty pounds became moot. I reveled in the opportunities to listen and to be heard.

It was from the listening that I learned so much. I overhead one conversation in which a classmate was apologizing for some long ago hurt, and the apology was graciously accepted, the healing evident in the words that followed. My admiration for both parties increased a hundredfold, and I wondered who needed to hear me say “I’m sorry” to help heal an old wound.

I saw the class “jocks” rally around a former teammate now in a wheelchair. No slaps on the back or brief “good to see you” greetings. The guys sat and stayed with him, talked with him, and listened to his somewhat garbled speech. Their effort to make time for a buddy who couldn’t reciprocate reminded me of how handicaps in other people  can evoke a reminder of our fallibilities and an urge to run away. Those guys didn’t. They didn’t leave him behind.

There was genuine joy in everyone to be able to BE there. Every reunion has an increasing list of those who have passed on, and we all say from time to time “every day is a gift.” But at the reunion there was a whole ballroom of people saying with big smiles and hearty hugs, “Isn’t great we’ve made it here for another gathering?” The sentiment was contagious and joyful, not a doomsday forecast.

I also enjoyed watching how differently men greeted each other as opposed to how the women responded to each other. Women: armed outstretched, in high pitched voices , “It’s sooooo good to see you.” Men: smile, punch on the shoulder, “Still driving that shit bag of a car?” and other affectionate insults. My lesson: it’s true-men are from Mars.

To my classmates of ’65: Thank you for being there. Thank you for sharing YOU. And thank you for contributing to my life’s journey.

With love,

Patti

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Act Like a Baby

bubblesWe never want to hear “You’re such a baby.” We don’t want to be thought of as whiny, quick to tears, and scared of loud noises. So we grow up, swallow our fears, fight back the tears, and bite our tongues…all in the name of growing up.

As a new grandmother, the moniker “baby” has taken on new meaning. Nothing new I suppose, but I’ve wondered why babies are so wonderful, fun, and freeing. It’s simple. Babies allow us to be babies too! We revert to playfulness, silly games, expressive reading…all in the name of trying to get that cutie patootie laughing, clapping and smiling. And it doesn’t matter if there are other adults in the room! We fall into the wonderful world of just being.

But, I would have no one to lunch with if I tried to make my friends laugh by clapping my hands and saying, “Say ‘Nana.’ I love you.” Although I will say that a couple of elementary teacher friends happily join me when trying to remember the lyrics to “Do your ears hangs low, do they wiggle to and fro” or  do a complete rendition of Shel Silverstone’s “Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout would not take the garbage out…” And with other adults at the table, too. It’s a good laugh shared.

So how do we act like a baby if we don’t have one handy to convince that we are the funniest thing since ripping paper? How can we get the healthy benefits of acting like a baby without alarming our friends? For starters I have a cat and a dog. The cat doesn’t really care, but the dog wags his tail in response to my baby talk (which I can’t even do with my granddaughter because it’s bad modeling for correct speech). But the dog? He’s hearing a melodic string of friendly communication that’s directed to him.

I also created a playlist on my iPhone and called it “House Dancing.” True, I would never, ever do this in front of other people, especially husband and grown children, but alone in my closed up air conditioned house, I crank up the speaker and play “Ice, Ice, Baby” and other songs–and become free, happy and childish. My cat and dog are a clandestine audience, sworn to secrecy, and they sit and watch me as I draw gestures from ancient dances such as the Twist, Hully Gully, Mashed Potato, Watusi, Monster Mash…well, you get the picture.

Come to think about it, I am alone this morning, the house is closed up tight against the desert heat, and the Latin beat of “Sway” is calling to me. Gotta go.

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Hail Mary, full of ….fear?

the-annunciation

The Annunciation, photo by the author, taken at the Folk Art Museum, Kinsky Summer Palace, Prague, CK

I am not a Biblical scholar by any means, but isn’t it time to recognize Mary’s side of the story? I mean, an angel tells Mary she is going to have a very special baby, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and she responds in so many words, “Okay.” She wonders how it would be so, but she is reassured that it will all work out.

Jesus is born, his birth told but not described in Scriptures. Thousands of artists have captured in their paintings and sculptures a smiling and relaxed Mary holding her newborn. The scriptures were written by men, of course, for men in the early church to study, and so the feminine point of view was lost. In the book of Luke, Mary was “troubled” by the angel’s words. Men, are you for real? Is that it? What about the morning sickness? And the swollen feet? Mary was blessed among women, but she was human. And what about the pain? The Mother of God would not have just crouched down and pushed out a full term baby without extreme discomfort. I gave birth to two children. I know.

Courage is acting in the face of fear, and in my mind Mary had plenty to fear. She was poor, and if traveling alone with Joseph (according to the story), she wouldn’t have had the comfort of her mother and familiar village women to help her with the birth. Pregnant with her first child? That’s enough for many sleepless nights. Surrendering to God’s will takes courage, but courage is continually tested by human doubt and fear.

What was it like? A woman at the time of Jesus’ birth stood or squatted during labor, her back supported by trusted family and friends. Mary would also have had a midwife who applied oils for lubrication, used poultices to ease pain, and used sea sponges for gently bathing her body. The midwife would have also brought sweet and aromatic herbs such as penny royal and quince to revive the laboring mother. Joseph would not have helped with the delivery; it would have been unclean for him to touch any blood.

Mary is esteemed and even worshiped for her role in birth of our Savior. Full of grace, certainly. Interestingly, the Koran says more about Mary’s preparation than do the Scriptures. The Koran’s description of Mary’s childhood, overseen by Divine intervention, gives believability to Mary’s acquiescence to God’s plan. She was visited daily by angels , and she had frequent visions of God. While there are many theological issues that I am not prepared to argue, the Koran seems to support the notion that Mary was groomed for the job, so to speak.

There is more to the birth of Jesus than what we have been led to believe through Sunday School, carols, and sermons. No where in the Bible are we told that Jesus was born in a stable. There were no inns at the time like we think of them; the Jews were hospitable and opened their homes to those who needed refuge. Jesus was born and placed in a manger, a hay filled depression in the dirt floor, probably in the lower level of a guest house, maybe even a relative’s house, say Biblical archeologists. The lower level housed people as well as animals.

But the truth conveyed by the story of Jesus’ birth is not dependent upon whether Jesus was born in a stable or whether Mary was indeed a virgin. The story of the nativity is beautiful and enduring because it teaches us about humility and trust. The Son of God born into a poor family? Hmmm…a lesson in seeing God in the least of us. Surrendering to something we don’t understand so that the gift can be received? Reminds me of Lamaze coaching…don’t fight the pain,  surrender to the pain, embrace it as something that will bring you love beyond anything you could have imagined.

How many times do we turn down gifts because of our own fears? Fear of not being in control, fear of losing ourselves. I hadn’t considered until recently how we sometimes need to give up something in order to receive.

This Christmas I’m not going to ponder the mysteries of a Virgin birth or worry about stables and mean innkeepers who turn  away a pregnant woman. I’m going to ponder the gift of God on earth, in the form of a man, birthed by a very brave and faithful young woman named Mary. Mary, full of grace, who surrendered, perhaps with occasional bouts of fear and pain, to the gift of all gifts- God’s love Incarnate.

Resources for Pondering

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