I finally had a chance to see Woody Allen’s most recent film, Midnight in Paris, and I’m happy to say it actually lived up to all the hype. I didn’t have a clue about the movie’s content prior to making sure it was in my Netflix queue. I just kept hearing people rave about how good it is. Without giving anything away, let me just say, the film is about how we somehow seem to believe that the past is always better than the present. Regardless of where we find ourselves on the proverbial wheel of time. People were more interesting. Life was more fun. Romance was more intense.
I’ve been guilty of this type of thinking my whole life. When I read (and then saw the movie) Wuthering Heights, I wanted a Heathcliff of my own. The moors of England sounded much more enchanting than the farmland of Indiana. I had a similar reaction to the characters in Little Women, although I vacillated between wanting to be Amy because she was pretty and Jo because she was smart.
I nearly swooned when I saw the original 1938 movie Marie Antoinette at a slumber party when I was just entering my teens. The other girls weren’t all that interested because it was an old black and white picture. I, on the other-hand, couldn’t get enough of the costumes and the beautiful imagery. Sadly, the social implications were lost upon me and I cried my eyes out when they cut off her head.
As a breast cancer survivor, it’s easy for me to look backwards and reminisce about how great my life was before my diagnosis. It’s also easy to wrap the past up in a sort of nostalgic glow. The problem with this particular kind of glow is that it’s often so bright and shiny, all it is really doing is distorting the truth.
I think another reason Midnight in Paris so resonated with me was because I spent time in Paris years ago all by myself and it was one of the most remarkable cities I’d ever seen. While watching the film I saw scenes that could have been lifted from my memory — which tells me that Paris doesn’t change very much. I find this comforting.
I also found it interesting that I look back on that part of my life with such fondness because I actually spent my time in Paris with very little money, even less food — and no idea how I was going to manage to get back home safe and sound. It was one of the most difficult periods in my life, and yet, from this perspective, all these years later, I recall it with great fondness. I realize it was the first time I had to stand on my own two feet and figure out how to survive.
And so it is with breast cancer. It was horrible while I was going through it. I pray to God I never have to do it again. But when I look back I realize just how much stronger I am as a result. Which brings me to an appropriate ending.
One of the characters highlighted in Allen’s film is Ernest Hemingway. Now there is someone I would have loved to meet! A line from his book A Farewell to Arms has particular meaning for anyone who has faced adversity (and who hasn’t?)
“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”
That is exactly how I think of women who have dealt with breast cancer. We are strong at the broken places and much of our strength is derived not from looking back, but from keeping our eyes on the future.