This week I saw a great movie on Netflix – “Freedom Writers” – a 2007 film depicting the true story of Erin Gruwell (brilliantly portrayed by Hilary Swank), a teacher in Long Beach, CA, who profoundly changed the lives of her students. The story takes place two years after the 1992 Los Angeles riots and gives the viewer an intense window into the darkness these young people endured through lives steeped in gang violence and poverty. Interestingly, a major turning point in her students’ transformations centers around educating them about the Holocaust as they journal and begin to heal their hearts and change their perspectives on themselves, and on life.
As these young lives slowly begin to change, we see that what causes the change is when truth becomes part of the story. There are countless examples where telling the truth started a chain of events that led to ultimate goodness, even if doing so resulted in dire consequences at first. Despite the tortuous path, without the courage to do the right thing, the cycle of suffering would have continued.
Love of another, seeing the other as oneself, was another literal game changer. There were games Ms. Gruwell played in the classroom that brought the various gangs together by having them realize how much they had in common, something they couldn’t see when looking at a rival gang member as “the other”.
Only the one white student had even heard of the Holocaust which became Ms. Gruwell’s primary teaching tool, along with journaling. The class actually visited a Holocaust museum and raised enough money to bring Miep Gies, the woman who hid Anne Frank and her family, to visit their classroom. The students are in awe of her as they are exposed to self sacrificing human nature such as hers. When they extol her as their hero, she instead replies that they are the heroes and that they “within their own small ways, [can] turn on a small light in a dark room.”
I experienced the beauty of the small light in the dark room this week. It has been a hard one, compounded by my own having caught a bad cold. So much tsuris. So while my dear one was sleeping and a caregiver was here, my sister and I decided to take a walk. I know we should do this more often but had not done so for many reasons, probably mostly psychological. It’s really hard to think about self care while watching a loved one die.
As we stepped outside I said, “Okay, no talk about anything stressful! What are all the things we are thankful for?” I turned on the small light.
The change in us was amazing!
As we walked outside on a breathtakingly beautiful day, basking in the gloriousness of this God created universe, we couldn’t stop being grateful for even the air we were breathing. With each exultation His goodness was palpable. I thanked God for the beauty of the day, for love, for Him. I thanked Him for teaching us about sacrificial love in the most profound way, allowing His Son to die on a cross for us. I thanked Him for teaching us how to love others unconditionally, how to see the other in ourself, and ourself in others. I thanked Him for His mercy when we fail.
No matter the circumstance, when we remember to be thankful, we open our hearts to Him in a way that just fills us up with Him. As you enjoy this day of Thanksgiving, may it be filled with thanksgiving. Let’s have days of thanksgiving not just on this holiday but every day!