Last week I let my almost-10-year-old pick a movie and stay up late with me. We piled pillows and blankets on the floor as we feasted on Oreo cookies and cherry limeades and laughed at a silly movie about middle school that contained a million plot holes.
Well… I THOUGHT they were plot holes.
Three-quarters of the way through this flick, it’s revealed that the lead character’s best friend who has been lovingly helping with all of the hi-jinx is actually a coping mechanism by the main character – an imagining of his kid brother who he lost to cancer a few years earlier.
We’d been laughing at bathroom humor five minutes before, but when I stole a glance at my sweet girl a few minutes after the reveal I could see the tears in the corners of her eyes. They were in mine, too.
Cleaning up in the kitchen after our viewing party, Sadie confessed that she had “shed a few tears in that one part.” I confessed that I had been doing the same and we had a grown-up talk about hard feelings and how art can be painful when it is effective. We talked about how the movie made her worry about HER little brother and we agreed that we had that in common – we both were lucky enough to have brothers whom we consider best friends. Before she was able to fall asleep that night, we took a detour to her brother’s bedroom where we both kissed his flushed, fast-asleep cheeks in the darkness.
Later that night, I started thinking about what a rite of passage it is to discover uncomfortable art as a child and I tried to remember the first fictional creations that made me cry as a kid.
I was just a little younger than my daughter is now when the movie My Girl came to theaters. I still vividly remember the hot tears I couldn’t keep back when Thomas stumbled on the nest of bees. I couldn’t explain what I was feeling – affection for Vada; a sense of pride and aspiration in witnessing such selflessness; just a lot of sadness and confusion. But it was a definitive moment. It was the discovery of the intersection of art and exploration and catharsis. An realizing that not everything in life was going to be funny and have a happy ending.
I openly admit that I cry at a lot of things these days (and not just EVERY episode of This Is Us).
I find that a plethora of Pixar and Disney movies get me choked up:
That final scene in the front yard at the end of Toy Story 3.
Bing Bong’s self-sacrificing descent into the pit in Inside Out.
Even the sisterly love that punctuates Frozen gets me a little undone.
(And can we please not even mention the first 15 minutes of Up?)
And I think the reason those things resonate so swiftly is that they catch a hardened, aging heart off-guard while at a kid movie and remind him of the first time he realized that life was going to be hard but art was going to make it a little better.