(The Hamilton Spectator, Monday, July 4, 2016)
HAMILTON, CANADA ✦
“They that wait upon the Lord will mount up with wings as eagles; they will run and not be weary; they will walk and not faint.”
The Hebrew prophet, Isaiah
The sad news of the day, or any day, is that the world is full of people who lack hope and basic belief in themselves because they’ve long been told in one way or another that they’ll never amount to anything, that they have nothing to offer, and the sooner they realize this the better it will be for all concerned.
Gather your friends and neighbours or anyone, really, from the guy who borrowed your rake to the rock-star in the Learjet, and ask them to write anonymously what they really think when looking at the ceiling at night, and get something like this:
“No matter what I accomplish, I still feel like a failure.” Or, “I can’t shake the thought that I’m worthless.” Or, “I don’t think anybody could ever love me, not if they knew the real me.”
There was a movie theatre on the edge of the Cotswolds in the United Kingdom who had the same thoughts. (At least this is what it would say if movie theatres had thoughts and occasionally expressed them.)
Yes, there was this theatre in Gloucestershire County, even as there was a kid from Gloucestershire. The kid was told these things by people, starting with his father, who, according to the movies, once said, “There’s a world who doesn’t want to know you.”
But the kid said the world can go to hades because it’s blind and deaf to what really matters, and he went off to fly (sort of), anyway. His name is Michael Edwards. All he wanted was to be an Olympian.
The rest, you likely know, this true story of Eddie the Eagle, the naïve (and only) British ski- jumper in Calgary’s 1988 Olympics, wearer of those fogged-up Coke-bottle glasses, the guy who charmed the world when he jumped in 70 m and 90 m events because, well, he could. (Sort of.)
Eddie didn’t care much what people thought. Likewise, in its best moments, I doubt that little theatre, a remodelled church, gives a flying flip about who thinks what. On my last trip to the UK I watched Eddie’s story in its tiny space. (Think Hamilton’s Westdale theatre shrunk fivefold.) It was perfect symmetry of content and medium.
Now, I’m one of those people who’d rather watch a well-crafted movie than do just about anything, a summer movie today, or another movie any day, really. I’d easily watch, say, all three Godfather movies while flying from Africa. So all this sensitivity to theatres, and stories written in blood, so to speak, might have something to do with this.
In fact, there are plain theatres in plain places like Uganda, even if only one viewer (hi there) watches. Indeed, a clerk once ran across the street to a competing theatre to get a certain movie for that lone viewer. (Hi there, again.)
In that humble country, for a few thousand shillings — 1,000 Ugandan shillings is about 40 Canadian cents — you and your kids can not only catch Angry Birds (at a theatre calling it The Angry Bird), but you can negotiate with management for a poster. This is why movie posters fill certain walls in that viewer’s African home.
But getting back to Gloucestershire and Eddie and you, this theatre, sure, people will walk past and laugh at your minuscule frontage, your inconsequential chairs and your mom and pop screen, even as pop’s in your tiny lobby serving popcorn. But this is your charm.
So have your secret doubts and hard nights. But you never know. One day some stranger might visit, enjoy who you are, then tell everyone possible all about you, like he’s crazy for you, really, like how those ancient prophets carried on about the Creator’s wild love for humanity.
Some people will still call you a joke. And maybe you are. The world première of Eddie the Eagle, after all, fell on April Fools’ Day. On the other hand, the foolish things of this world often do upend the wise, sometimes in remarkable fashion. If it wasn’t so, life would be a horrible bore.