The Intention of Kindness

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Tom Hanks has been around as long as I can remember. I first saw him in the movie Splash (1984). He’d been in a TV sitcom for two years before but that was back in the days when I never watched TV so I wasn’t aware of him. Then he was a leading man with women like Meg Ryan. I wasn’t sure I understood, but the movies were always good, and I didn’t question casting choices. I remember when he suddenly became ‘a son of Oakland, Ca ‘because he had lived in Oakland and, for a brief time in his young life, gone to Skyline High School. Then he played a washed-up, hard drinking baseball legend coaching a girl’s team in A League of Their Own (1992). Loving baseball as I did, I fell in love with him and, from then on, if Tom Hanks was in a movie, I went to see it.

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Then I was middle-aged and Hanks was middle aged. He’d been married to Rita Wilson since 1988 (they have 2 children), and there had never once been a scandal associated with him. At some point, we both had graying hair and I realized that I had watched the rise and staying power of a true Hollywood giant. Last year, he and wife, Rita, caught Covid-19 on a visit to Australia. They went public with it, they were honest about how horrible it was, and I’m sure the rest of the world besides myself were praying for their recovery.

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(L-R): Tom Hanks, wife Rita Wilson, and Julia Roberts stand on Wilson’s newly unveiled star after she was honored on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood,, California on March 29, 2019. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)

Today, needing an escape from the chatter in my head, I went looking for a movie to watch, and up popped A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019), a movie I’d wanted to see but it hadn’t come to Paris as far as I know. Within ten minutes, I was once again thinking with awe about Hanks, his acting, and his amazing career. But mostly what appears to me to be his humility. Mr. Rogers wasn’t around when I was growing up and I don’t believe I have ever seen a single episode. I’ve seen enough paradies to know that there is a chunk of America that is too cynical to think he was for real. As the movie started, I was one of those people. I thought to myself, “only Tom Hanks could pull this off.” Twenty minutes later, I was a Mr. Rogers cheerleader (Fred Rogers died in 2004 at the age of 74).

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The movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is based on the friendship of Fred Rogers and journalist, Tom Junod . Mr. Junod wrote a wonderful essay for Esquire magazine, published in 1998. If you are interested, I encourage you to see the movie first, then read the article. It was re-published in 2017. It is a remarkable piece of writing.

People like Mr. Rogers are unique and exceedingly rare. People who want the world to be a better place. They are people who remember what it is like to be a child. Usually these people who know that it all starts with how one treats children, your own and everyone else’s, become therapists, buddhist monks, writers of children’s books, but to create and sustain a TV show that lasted from 1968-2001 and never veered off-course is an amazing feat. And that the great Tom Hanks can bring him to life for someone like me shows the talent of a truly gifted actor.

Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson in Australia, after surviving Coronavirus

Usually someone has to do something bad, create a scandal, be a Republican, to have one’s name in the papers and become famous or infamous. But Mr. Rogers and Tom Hanks share in common being famous for being kind. They are quiet presences in our lives. They go about doing their jobs. They don’t seem to need to create buzz and bring attention to themselves. I don’t know how they do it. At one point in the movie, the protaganist, Lloyd Vogel (based on Tom Junod) asks Mrs Rogers what it is like being married to a saint. She looks at him and says “I hate it when people call him that. He is human. He gets angry, sometimes really angry. He practices at being (the man you see). He swims. Every morning.” So, in fact, I do know how they do it, they practice. I have learned late in life that doing the right thing does take practice. It certainly doesn’t come naturally to me. I have a rock in the back yard of my home in Oakland that says ‘May I be the person my dog thinks I am.’ There was a time I thought that was unattainable. Now I think ‘May I be the person I know I’m capable of being….if I practice at it every day.’

Mr. Rogers, left, and Tom Hanks

Every once in a while, something passes in front of each one of us that reminds us that there are still people out there trying their best to make the world a little bit kinder. They aren’t praying for World Peace. They are putting into action small steps that will impact their “neighborhood”. Many of us hope that the Hundreth Monkey theory really exists and that one day…. Meanwhile, this author is forever grateful for the inspiration of Fred Rogers and Tom Hanks to remind me that one little action today, an intention of kindness, will make a difference …. to someone.

A bientôt,

Sara

PS–a small Tom Hanks movie that may have gotten lost in this year of the amazing availability of streaming shows is News of the World on Netflix. I watched it in February and was glad to see that it received a number of Oscar nominations. But I heard no buzz. So I’m buzzing now!

https://time.com/5733017/a-beautiful-day-in-the-neighborhood-true-story/

The Pandemic and Depression

Last week, I was speaking to a friend in the US. She confessed how depressed she has been this winter and that, for the first time in many years, her doctor raised the dosage of her anti-depressant medication. In her discussion with him, he told her that therapists/psychologists/psychiatrists of every type are extremely concerned about the soaring rates of depression and anxiety during this Winter of Covid-19. I had read in the Guardian that it was one year since Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, had been diagnosed with Covid-19; that because he is who he is–a much loved and admired actor, their illness made it real for everyone, brought the reality home to the world that we were at war with a killer disease.

In the US, there was so much distraction due to the way the Trump administration wasn’t handling the crisis, and it quickly became so political that the dangers often seemed lost in the conversation. Over here in Europe, the plight of Italy set a bar for how bad things could get quickly and, at first, the rest of Europe looked efficient.

Yet, the reality was no one, politicians and lay persons alike, knew what we were were dealing with. The CDC would make its best guess but Trump was denigrating the experts so often, it was hard to follow. People like me looked back in history as to how and what coronaviruses did. I thought I knew a lot. Even though I predicted many things that came true, there is no way that history can really express what it is like living through something like this minute by minute, day by day, hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel, only to learn of more deadly variants of the virus evolving even as vaccines were made available at record speed. The impact on mental health around the world has been devastating. Millions of deaths, job losses, the lack of human touch, the lockdowns and the anger at governments has created a mental health crisis that may take years to overcome even when the virus passes.

“More than 42% of people surveyed by the US Census Bureau in December reported symptoms of anxiety and depression. That is an increase of 11% from the previous December.” –Nature.com If this is a good cross-section of the US, it means that almost half the population was suffering from mental upset and imbalance.

Limited social interactions leave people distressed. Scientists don’t really know if lockdowns and restrictions on social interaction reduce or exacerbate mental health stress. For me, living in France and trusting Macron and his administration, I felt safe with the chosen preventions. I didn’t even go outside at first, but finally was persuaded by a friend in Germany to walk when I could. Since then, early May 2020, I have walked 2-5 miles a day outside and watched four seasons come and go. I, personally, didn’t feel much anxiety or depression until early January. I spend so much of my life in front of a computer and that didn’t change. But I did get hopes up about getting vaccinated and when the realisation that France was falling behind the US and the UK in vaccinations, my energy holding me together ran out. It didn’t feel like something I could control. I could just feel myself collapse in on myself and the world went blah. That’s when I called my friends in Brittany and asked if I could come out for a visit. I hadn’t intended on staying for over five weeks but, I felt so safe. No Covid on the Côte de Granit Rose. I felt I could breathe again. I had my cat, Bijou, with me and lots of space. For at least 2.5 weeks out of the five, I was alone in the large house with a large kitchen and a view of the sea from almost every window. When the sun shone, it shone with light sparkles popping in the air. The sea would change from deep blues to turquoise. Even low tide with sailboats helplessly lying on the wet dirt looked beautiful to me. OK, getting vaccinated in France was not what it should be or what I wanted, and it was a good possibility I would have to wait another four to six months but there was no virus so it all felt ok.

Now I’m home in Paris. Time being the strange thing that it is, Brittany is already a memory, a wonderful dream. They say that the virus is rising in Paris and no one agrees on vaccines. Are they here? how to get an appointment? (Since writing this, I have made an appointment for a first jab! If it actually happens, I will tell more about it.) But all depression and anxiety is gone. Paris is still beautiful even though I only see a small part of it. There are more people on my block than I saw in all of Perros last month. Most are still wearing masks. I will move far away when I see someone without a mask. It only made me unhappy to rant inside at the person who didn’t wear their mask. And best of all, none of my plants died while I was away and my iPhone says sun next week.

Under the circumstances, life looks pretty good from my perspective. So how to help my friends who don’t have a Brittany to run away to when the blues grab them by the throat. How to remind them that “This too shall pass”. It always does. But depression is a tricky monster. It doesn’t just go away because, in your mind, you know things will get better. It’s an awful disease. My friend who confessed her depression to me also got Covid this winter. She is well and she has been vaccinated, two jabs. But I wonder now about the after effects of the virus. She had it quite seriously. She wasn’t hospitalised but she couldn’t get out of bed or eat for days.

There is still so much to learn as we enter our second year of Life with a Virus. How have others weathered this storm? If you feel comfortable doing so, please let us know in the comments section. Even though we must socially distance, it is important to know we aren’t alone in what we feel, in what we experience. So please share the good and the bad.

A bientôt,

Sara