Over the past thirty-five years, my college roommates and our spouses have gathered about every six months for a reunion. The eight of us will meet at rotating locations either in each others homes or we’ll check into a big city hotel to enjoy some sightseeing. We spend parts of three days together enjoying good meals and sharing the unfolding stories of our lives. As we gather at a table or crowd into one couple’s hotel room we have told of both the joys and the sorrows of our lives – the loss of parents, miscarriages, rearing teenagers, career and health issues, the marriages of our children, and then the celebration of the grand-kids. There is hearty laughter along with shared tears. This union of friends is an anchor in our lives.
On one such weekend gathering we chose to take in the movies and saw Mr. Holland’s Opus starring Richard Dreyfus. We enjoyed the story and the soundtrack that included the music of our youth. Each one of us could associate a special teacher from our lives with the fictional Mr. Holland.
In the middle of the film, sometime after the Holland’s have discovered their child is deaf, there’s a scene in the kitchen of their home that held special meaning for Sue and me. The scene is the summation of the hurt and disappointment and pain the wife bears in raising a deaf child. Mr. Holland, who lives a life anchored to music and education, has been in denial for years about having a child who is unable to hear his music . . . to experience music . . . to communicate with the world as he does through music. He has almost written off his son.
In this poignant scene the wife is reduced to tears at his nonchalance. Mr. Holland has come and gone for these years of child rearing and left the struggle in her lap. She has quietly handled the hardship and the frustration of raising a child unable to communicate and now it all comes apart and on the kitchen floor she cries out “I just want to talk with my son! I just want to talk to him and have him hear and say simple things in return!” It was a telling moment for Mr. Holland and a turning point in his journey as a parent as he now recognizes his selfish distance.
At the close of the film as we are brought to tears of joy at the triumphal conclusion, I turned to exit with the others but Sue is still seated and she’s not moving. I bent down to ask her if she’s ready to leave and notice she’s crying. For a teacher, it seemed an appropriate response to a film that honors the art of teaching young minds that often don’t want to learn. I assumed they were tears of joy. They weren’t.
As I sat next to her, she brought up the scene in the kitchen and her thoughts focused on our young son and our family struggle with his A.D.D (Attention Deficit Disorder.) “That was Alex, Craig. I just want to talk to my son! I just want to talk to him and have him look me in the eyes and talk to me. Will he ever do that? Will he ever be able to hold his attention long enough to talk to me?”
Now the two of us are crying together as the people file out and our friends quietly step out to the lobby so we can share this private moment in an empty auditorium.
As we left the theater, I headed for the mens room. Soon I was joined by my roommates who asked if everything was alright . . . could they help in any way? I began to tell them of Sue’s comments and found myself crying again. So now, in a public bathroom at the movie theater in the mall in Alton, Illinois, there are these grown men doing a group hug and crying together next to the towel dispenser as patrons quietly come and go and wonder what in the world is going on with those guys.
Here’s a ten minute clip of the final scene of Mr. Holland’s Opus. You might want to have a tissue handy.