In­spi­ra­tion and in­vi­ta­tion in a fresh new film

The Standard Journal - - COMMENTARY - NEA Con­trib­u­tor By Kathryn Jean Lopez

“They taught me what it re­ally means to be a hu­man per­son, to love and let the bar­ri­ers down,” di­rec­tor Ran­dall Wright ex­plains about his ex­pe­ri­ence mak­ing “Sum­mer in the For­est,” his new doc­u­men­tary. If there’s some­one who has watched this movie about a com­mu­nity of dis­abled peo­ple near Paris and not ben changed, I’ve not met him or her.

“Sum­mer in the For­est” is a mov­ing por­trait of L’Arche, a com­mu­nity es­tab­lished in France by Jean Vanier for men and women with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties, which now has out­posts around the world.

“Peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are not seek­ing power, but friend­ship,” Vanier ex­plains in the film. As we see in the lives of those fea­tured in the film, this at­ti­tude frees them to em­brace free­dom and even fool­ish­ness.

“As you laugh to­gether, as you have fun to­gether, bar­ri­ers drop,” he ex­plains. “Pres­ence is tak­ing time and wast­ing time, ap­par­ently to be­come who we are all called to be.”

“The big hu­man prob­lem is just to ac­cept peo­ple as they are,” Vanier says in the movie.

It’s fairly sim­ple, but foun­da­tional. A mes­sage for all of us, be­cause it’s ul­ti­mately about all of us. In a ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion af­ter the movie opened in New York, Wright con­fessed that when he ar­rived at L’Arche to film, he was at a point in his life where he was “ready to find a place I be­lieved in that shows us how we should live, or at least give us hope.” The res­i­dents of L’Arche took him places — in­clud­ing to a me­mo­rial to the peo­ple who were put on the last train to the Nazis’ Buchen­wald con­cen­tra­tion camp. The touch could have been heavy-handed had it been planned. As a nat­u­ral part of the sto­ry­line, stem­ming from a res­i­dent’s mem­o­ries, it is ex­actly what we need to see and re­flect on. It’s a spot­light on what in­dif­fer­ence to ha­tred and ha­tred of dif­fer­ences can do.

In a med­i­ta­tion for Easter that ap­peared in Tablet, a Catholic newsweekly, Vanier wrote: “Many of us live in a state of un­ease. We may not be fully aware of it, but we of­ten carry a hid­den bur­den that is close to guilt. ... Is Je­sus ask­ing us to sell ev­ery­thing we have and give all to the poor? Surely, that is not pos­si­ble. Don’t we have a fam­ily? What about our chil­dren, who need feed­ing and cloth­ing?”

I might add that be­cause this seems im­pos­si­ble, and even pro­vid­ing for one’s own fam­ily can be so over­whelm­ing, aren’t we liv­ing in a cul­ture that seems to be full of re­sent­ment for peo­ple who might look to us for help? That’s part of why “Sum­mer in the For­est” is made for this mo­ment — to rein­tro­duce ten­der­ness in the face of hope­less­ness.

Vanier writes: “Je­sus on the feast of the Res­ur­rec­tion looks at each one of us with more love than we can dare be­lieve. He for­gives us our short­com­ings; he frees us from our guilt. He then sends us off to for­give oth­ers, so that they can be free from guilt. Each one of us is called to bring peace where there is con­flict. We are not all called to sell ev­ery­thing we have. We are all called to be com­mit­ted to one per­son who is in pain, who is lonely and lost and who needs a friend.” He adds: “This is the Res­ur­rec­tion.”

What­ever your be­liefs or opin­ions about re­li­gion, “Sum­mer in the For­est” is an in­vi­ta­tion to en­ter into a fully hu­man life. I’m not sure we live in that full­ness of hu­man­ity when we are run­ning from ap­point­ment to ap­point­ment, scrolling and click­ing and pon­tif­i­cat­ing on what­ever it is that’s in the news or on the Twit­ter feed to­day. “Sum­mer in the For­est” is a re­treat on film, one that draws us into a bet­ter life.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is se­nior fel­low at the Na­tional Re­view In­sti­tute, ed­i­tor-at-large of Na­tional Re­view On­line and found­ing di­rec­tor of Catholic Voices USA. She can be con­tacted at klopez@na­tion­al­re­view.com.

Kath­eryn Jean Lopez

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