Friday, September 23, 2011


Rodin's The Thinker 

“ See, the sad thing about a guy like you is in 50 years you're gonna start doing some thinking on your own and you're gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life. One, don't do that. And Two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library”  - Will in Good Will Hunting

The speech you see above is from a gem of a movie that was written by two best friends who are now famous: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.  The scene in Good Will Hunting where it appears is one of the most memorable in the movie.  Will (a young janitor from South Boston) confronts a Harvard pretty boy after he insults Will’s friend to impress a girl.  The Harvard guy turns his clever academia wit on Will, who quickly outs him as a plagiarist – citing the ancient text his wit is from, down to the page number.  Will’s mind, we learn early in the movie, is hiding out in the body of a troubled, violent Southie who would rather fit in than excel. 

It is my delight to remember it.  I love seeing it in print and thinking that someone came up with that retort.  It's beautiful.  I love to notice people's giftings, and that's why I loved Good Will Hunting.  
I once went shopping for my granddaughter’s first birthday in a crowded book store in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I was looking for the Shel Silverstein classic “The Giving Tree” so that I could pass it on to her, as I hoped to pass it on to her mother.  The guy helping me had never heard of it, and said they probably didn’t have it.  He made his way to the computer as I heard the words of the beginning of the book being spoken by someone else nearby:  “Once there was a tree... and she loved a little boy...and every day the boy would come...and climb up her trunk...and swing from her branches...”   I followed the voice around the bookshelves to see that it came from the man who was busy fixing the escalator.    It was magical...

Today I was looking up a poem, a very famous one, called “Invictus”, written in the Victorian era by a poet named William Ernest Henley.   While incarcerated on South Africa’s famed Robben Island, Nelson Mandela recited the poem to himself daily, and to other prisoners on occasion to boost their morale. It was put into the movie Invictus (also starring Matt Damon) as he tells the young Rugby captain that it served as inspiration through the years of abusive and wrongful imprisonment. 

Henley was a sickly child (his tuberculosis of the bone led to the amputation of his left leg below the knee) his school was interrupted by periods of  solitude, confined to his bed.  As a teen, Henley took the Oxford exams without attending school regularly... and passed.  His demeanor was colored with confidence and power, and was known for entering a room with great dignity.  Friends with Robert Louis Stevenson, he unwittingly served as inspiration for the dreaded character, Long John Silver from Treasure Island.   

In my research I saw that Henley was immortalized in a bronze bust by Rodin, the same man who sculpted The Thinker.  I had no idea they were alive at the same time, didn’t know that Rodin ever sculpted him.  The rabbit trail led me to a room of discovery about Rodin, who also was self-taught and is now known as the father of modern sculpture.   The Thinker has now become one of the most recognizable sculptures in the world.

There are so many people spilling over with giftings too great to be contained in one person.  As I read about their lives, I see the fingerprints of God in each one of them.  What made them unable to see Him?  I think of the true talent in this world, how it doesn’t pool in one belief system.  Talent and giftings  (what my Nana used to call the “kisses of God”) are everywhere, in every religion. 

Although touching, Invictus speaks  of finding strength in oneself , rather than God.  Henley, the author of beautiful and perfect poems was a self-confessed atheist.   Mandela, an example of strength and leadership is agnostic.  Rodin, the creator of so many important religious pieces,  never bothered to make a strong commitment to any faith.

The end of the poem, is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking to me: "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul"  

Alive with giftings and life and beauty and still not able to see where it comes from. 

It is the definition of tragedy.