(Watercolor, Jane Kohut-Bartels, “Nightingale Nest”, 2006)
I saw this 1981 movie for the first time tonight. My dear husband wanted me to go to a cast party with him (he works in the movies here in Atlanta) to meet Kevin Costner and Pharnell Williams, and probably other interesting folk, but I finally wanted to see the movie I had been avoiding all these years.
There is a reason for this, and it doesn’t speak to my courage. It speaks to the trauma of of a marriage of 13 years, one that ended in 1983. My ex husband Mark was an Emory student, and we were so damn young in 1970 when we married. He worked the first few years and then never worked again. It wasn’t that he was crippled, or unemployable, he had a good education and could have easily found a job. The fundamental problem was this: he considered himself a ‘revolutionary’. caught up in the same crap that I had been for many years. However, I didn’t have the privilege of sitting on my ass. I had to work to support both of us. Mark was a product of rich, coddling parents, who told me to put aside my own education so their son could finish his. He didn’t then, but I certainly didn’t either.
This movie came out a few short years before our divorce in 1983. My reason for my aversion to this movie? Mark took a woman, unknown to me, to it, (we were still married and in marriage therapy) to dinner and if I remember this correctly, to a hotel. Using MY credit card and my car. This was just one of the things that happened in the final years of our marriage. He continued to ‘date’ other women, sneak around. Including my nurse when I was in hospital for surgery to restore fertility. Those days are best forgotten.
For some reason, this movie was to become something traumatic, something I didn’t really understand why I avoided it then, but seeing it tonight for the first time, broke the bonds of that particular time and trauma. In part it has strong messages of anti-Semitism and class snobbery. Mark’s parents were anti-Semites, especially his mother. Goldwater folk. She was the wife of a doctor and was a stereotype. She assumed I was Jewish, though I was at one time Catholic, raised Catholic. She then called me a ‘mackerel snapper’. I was shocked, never having heard this term before. She would be forgettable if it wasn’t that she is legion in her bigotry.
For anyone who knows something about the class divisions in British society and especially what was brewing in Europe in the 20’s and 30’s and what was to come, well, this movie brought forth those lessons, though not in great detail. Set during the Olympics of 1924, one gets a scent of what was to come and what was to happen to European Jewry, amongst the usual ravages of war. Class society in Britain had begun to break down, to begin to reform after WWI, but the government and certainly the universities were centers of maintaining those class barriers.
The movie is rather boring, but there are good lessons if you apply attention. Religious principles of maintaining the Sabbath, unity despite competition, dedicating yourself to something you deeply love and giving it all your devotion were some of these lessons. These issues are still universal and I believe are fundamental to humanity. Maintaining the Sabbath was a rather abstract and ‘cute’ principle to me, but I understood it in the context of this movie much better.
Finally, I made my peace with this movie. It was nothing to fear, or to hold in trepidation because one man is remembered for his actions around this period. We live in the age of anxiety but we don’t have to live in fear. That is a hard and important lesson. My anxiety had pushed me into living in fear, even about things that did not touch my present life.
I have been married for almost 32 years to the most marvelous, generous and loving man I could ever image. This marriage has been the opposite of the previous one, and it is based on love, devotion and trust. I now see that trust is like a seed and grows where the soil is fertile. I resisted this trust for years because of the previous betrayal. (and not to sound like I was a saint, I wasn’t. I was hateful, even to myself) There will be many other cast parties to attend, but tonight I wrestled with an old demon that had blindsided me for decades. In the end, there was nothing to fear, and many lessons. Sitting next to my husband, holding his hand, our new English Staffie between us snatching almonds where she could, I felt safe. I felt that this past could be left behind. There was nothing to fear.