What’s your favorite quote from history or a movie? I don’t really like most quotes out of context.
There’s a quote in the 1990s version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” where the dad asks his young son “would you rather go to day care or stay home with mommy.” The boy replies “she’s not my mommy!” and runs out. Outside of context, that quote means nothing. But, after seeing the film, I’ve used the quote to describe choices between terrible things. (You see, both the mommy and the kids at daycare did strange things that terrified the child.)
I recently saw a question that reminded me of the fact that no moment describes everything. Someone asked what you can learn from how people say goodbye. They implied that you can learn about gratitude here.
I totally disagree. There are people who give tearful goodbyes, but are those crocodile tears? Do they give tears whenever they say goodbye to anyone, even people they don’t know that well? Do their tears mean anything if they are given freely all the time?
If someone who never cries then breaks down in tears, it means a lot more. In the film Gods and Generals, when General “Stonewall” Jackson is crying for a little girl who he met by a Christmas tree, someone asks why he hasn’t cried for all the soldiers (and civilians) who fell before her. “She’s crying for them all,” is the answer given. After that answer is given, it seems the only logical answer to such a question.
But, one wonders, was the little girl’s death just the straw that broke the camel’s back? Was a waterfall of emotion waiting to burst? Or, was that girl special, with the warmth she seemed to touch the general’s heart? Without those two lines that dismissed the special importance of the little girl, perhaps that scene would have been even more powerful.
To show the General crying, however, is meaningless. We need to know why he is weeping, or who he is weeping for, and how often he weeps. I know people who say their favorite verse from the Bible is “Jesus wept.” But, what does that mean? If you don’t know who Jesus is, or why he’s weeping, then it means absolutely nothing.
Laughter can also mean nothing. I remember in Tucson Arizona, a crazy woman got off the bus and just started laughing at me, apparently for no reason.
Now, I’ve met a lot of insane people in my lifetime, and no matter how crazy someone is, they always have some reasoning for their actions. The woman might have been laughing at the fact that she got away with not paying bus fair, or perhaps she heard a conversation I had. Maybe I was mixed up with someone else, even someone who had been dead of 30 years, or possibly even a fictional character.
In the same way, when people say goodbye, their reaction is meaningless, until it is put into context. If you hug everyone, one more hug is meaningless. If you hug no one, then a hug has meaning. But, we don’t know what that meaning is from the hug alone.
How was that person brought up to act? Was the individual taught to contain emotion and keep a straight face or to show more emotion than existed? Was the individual taught to wave until the other party is out of sight? Does the person have faith that they will see the departing person in the future, perhaps even in another life?
Some people might avoid long goodbyes because they want to contain emotions, which they find embarrassing or even hurtful. It may be easier not to allow these emotions to manifest.
Others may see it as futile to spend too much time with those who are leaving, and feel more grateful to those who chose to stay.
Of course, gratitude can come into it. One can quote the Golden Girls them song and say “thank you for being a friend.” But, true feelings are only shown, in my opinion, when someone breaks with routine.
Outside of context, one moment describes nothing. If you have at least two moments, however, see a person in at least two different contexts, you might start to get some idea of a character.
With film, we often try to show an unrealistic version of events, by using a first impression to describe a movie. We see a close up of a bicep, this must be a person who acts with his muscles. We see a blank face, this must be the person we are meant to identify with.
However, the best films, plays, and fiction, in my opinion, go beyond the shallow, initial view of a character, and develop the character in ways we don’t expect. Perhaps it uses a stereotype to lead the audience to make one assumption, but then it shows that our first impression, based on one action, does not show us who the full person it.