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For the week of Jan 29 - Feb 4, 2003

Opinion Columns

Antwone’s reminder

Commentary by JoELLEN COLLINS

The movie "Antwone Fisher" impressed me because its images remain after the popcorn is consumed and for many days after the final, moving scene has been played. I write this column not as a critic or as the inveterate moviegoer I am; many viewers may find the movie sentimental or suspect in its accuracy. Although I haven't read the facts of the real Antwone Fisher, the existence of his name as writer and producer attests to his authenticity. Whatever the reality of the portrayal, three things about the movie haunt me still.

The most obvious is the inspiration of seeing a story where the young hero triumphs over a desperately deprived and abusive childhood. Antwone learns to channel his rage and frustration over the cards he has been dealt into an affirmation of life. Unlike some other contemporary "heroes," Antwone seeks to overcome the violence he has displayed and discovers his value as a human being. No drugs, no obscenities, no abuse of women here. Just the discovery of love. I hope little boys in equally desperate circumstances can learn from him.

I am reminded of the saga of young Somali boys who simply walked away from the ravages of the civil war decimating their village. After experiencing the kind of terror most of us cannot imagine and spending years in refugee camps, they were flown to the United States for relocation. They have progressed from staggering bewilderment to living positive, joyous lives in their new country. These men attest to the power of healing.

The second thing that struck me is the ever constant and necessary reminder that, unlike the child Antwone, I have been blessed with material comforts and the kind of security that 90 percent of the world's peoples will never experience. When the movie hero visits a Cleveland housing project, my friend turned to me and said, "And we gripe about a two-bedroom condominium in Ketchum being too small!" Perhaps this sentiment is overwrought, but I agree with Martin Scorsese’s comments at the Golden Globes: sometimes a cliché is a cliché because it says the truth.

The truth here is that I am tired of all the whining--my own included--about stock market losses in a world where even some Americans living in the wealthiest country in the world go home each day to unspeakable poverty, neglect and abuse. If my Thai friends--who live comfortably by Thai standards--could see my kitchen, modest by Wood River Valley requirements, they would think I am wealthy beyond any normal comparison. I don't say we have to feel guilty all the time for our abundance, but I do think it doesn't hurt to take time once in awhile to reflect on the bounties we experience. A little empathy for those suffering from a lack of creature comforts doesn’t hurt, either.

The "skinny" on the United States is that we have indeed become the fattest nation in the world, both physically and with the possessions we display. No wonder we are not universally beloved. Smug material accumulation is not attractive thrown in the face of a hungry mother, whether here in a tenement or in a mud hut in Ethiopia. Now with the explosion of television in even the most remote corners of the world, our version of the American dream may be off-putting. It is shining and yet repulsive at the same time – "Dallas" as seen by Bigger Thomas in "Native Son." I personally believe most Americans to be generous and giving but fear that quality is not evident to most of the rest of the world. The most memorable theme of "Antwone Fisher," to me, however, was the hero's quest for his mother. I am reminded of the children's book "Are you my Mother?", a story of a lost baby bird searching for his mother through encountering maternal samples of many species. He finds his mother and a happy ending at last. Unfortunately there are untold children even today, in our abundant society, who have not known their real mothers. And, like Antwone Fisher's, the quest may not result in the dreamed-of mommy. Some, fortunately, find good foster or adoptive homes; many do not. The movie reminds us that often there are no easy answers. When I was adopted, my parents told me they had gone to an orphanage filled with tiny bassinets. Way in the back of the room, they said, they saw a tiny hand waving in a slant of light, fell in love with the baby, and took her home. I never saw that story as the apocryphal one it probably was. While I was thrilled that they chose me, I had a question. What if I had been asleep, not waving my hand? What if they had skipped me for another more active baby? My blessings, I thought, were tentative; I could have wound up without a mother. So perhaps I identify more than many with the child left behind. Antwone found his destiny, though it wasn't what he imagined. Mine was better than anyone could imagine. Born in America, adopted by parents who adored me, given an education, I was able to eagerly grasp the world that opened to me. My heart aches for those who have not found their mothers or the security I have been given. Antwone, thanks for the reminder.

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