December 19, 2008

Finding Our Authentic Selves

Maybe it’s because my dad was a life-long golfer that I love movies with a golf t
heme. Except for an eight week course I took back in the sixties when I tried to love the game as much as he did, I’ve never played myself. Never-the-less the rich analogies and metaphors used in golf movies can easily apply to life itself, and I guess that’s what makes the ‘underdog’ sports movies like The legend of Bagger Vance so popular with non-athletes like me.

In a nutshell, The legend of Bagger Vance is about a disillusioned World War I veteran---Junah (played by Matt Damon)---who reluctantly agrees to play a game of golf to help a friend save a new golf course in Savannah, circ 1930, playing against the great Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. Junah was a local golf pro before the war but had spent the last fifteen years being wasted. Trying to practice golf again, he finds the game futile until Bagger Vance---played by Will Smith---comes into his life to be his caddy and to teach him that the secret of golf is the same secret to mastering any life challenge.

“Inside each and every one of us,” says Bagger Vance, “Is one true authentic swing... Somethin' we was born with… Somethin' that's ours and ours alone... Somethin' that can't be taught to ya or learned... Somethin' that got to be remembered... Over time the world can rob us of that swing... It gets buried inside us under all our wouldas and couldas and shouldas... Some folk even forget what their swing was like.”

I went to the library today for the first time since shortly after Don’s stroke in May of 2000. Before the stroke, I was in the library at least twice a week. When I came home today and saw the rerun of The Legend of Bagger Vance on TV it made me think of all the caregivers, like me, whose ‘authentic selves’ got lost in the responsibilities of caring for someone else. Most of us, I think, lost that sense of being able to almost hear our surrounds breathe when we are happily perfecting our swings---wherever that swing might have taken us in our pre-stroke days.

At a critic turning point in the movie, Bagger tells Junah, “Ain't a soul on this entire earth ain't got a burden to carry he don't understand, you ain't alone in that... But you been carryin' this one long enough... Time to go on... lay it down...”

That movie line got me to thinking about why it is that we all tend to carry our burdens around long past the point when we should or could let go of them. For Junah it was the burden of being the only man to have survived a dangerous mission that he couldn’t let go. We caregivers aren’t running away from something filled with that much guilt but, just the same, I’ll bet there are many caregivers and survivors alike who wonder why we survived the trials and tribulations that life handed us, carrying the burden of the stroke event long past the point when we should quit wondering and just start living again. How many of us need to take to heart what Bagger told Junah?---that it was time for him to come out of the shadows and let himself remember HIS swing. I think that may be very good advice for some of us who’ve forgotten who we are.

Can we get our “grace in motion” back? Can we find our authentic selves again? Today I asked myself that question and I answered that I think I’m already am headed in that direction. I’ve been so wrapped up in the stroke support world these past few years that I forgot who I am, what my true swing in life is really all about. Sure, I am still a caregiver and always will be for as Don is a live, but his stroke doesn’t have to consume my life anymore. I can steal an hour here and there to take the advice Bagger gave Junah when he said, “You lost your swing... We got to go find it... Now it's somewhere... in the harmony... of all that is... All that was... All that will be...” I like that thought.

One of the scenes in this movie that I loved the most happened just before the 18th hole when Junah’s ball in the rough moved a few inches. By the rules of golf when that happens the golfer is suppose to call a stroke on himself but no one saw this happen except Junah and a small kid. Thus a moral dilemma is set up when the kid begs him not to do it, not to tell. “No one will ever know, I swear!” the kid says to which Junah replies: “I’ll know.”

This scene is based on a real incident that happened in a tournament between Gene, Sarazen, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. When it happened, the marshals left if up to Jones to call it a foul, or not, and when he did call it on him self the marshal declared it to be a “stunning act of sportsmanship.” Jones disagreed. “You don’t commend a bank robber for not robbing a bank,” he said. “This is the way golf should be played.” He eventually lost that U.S Opener by one stroke. The stroke he penalized himself. Seeing the fictionalized version of this incident reminded me of when my dad told me about this golfing, Hallmark moment years ago, inciting a long conversation about morals and ethics. I’ve used that “I’ll know” line on myself every since whenever a moral dilemma might tempt me towards a direction that I shouldn’t go.

Movies about sports, like The Legend of Bagger Vance, are usually pretty inspirational to me and this one was no disappointment. Where else can you hear philosophical thoughts like: “There's a perfect shot out there tryin' to find each and every one of us,” as Bagger put it. “All we got to do is get ourselves out of its way, to let it choose us.”

Jean Riva ©

Painting by August Macke


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