Monday, November 17, 2008

Young @ Heart: The Movie

If you haven't seen it yet, I'm sure that you'll enjoy the movie "Young @ Heart," a joyful romp through the process of aging and dying. As its title suggests, it's the story of the Young @ Heart Chorus, an ensemble of oldsters who, under the direction of the lovingly demanding Bob Cilman, deliver rousing renditions of rock and punk band songs like David Byrne's "Living in a Time of War," the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want," and Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia."

The Young @ Heart Chorus are a sprightly bunch of seniors, ranging in age from mid-seventies to mid-nineties. It's clear from the film that their longevity can be attributed in good part to the joy they take in their creative efforts, and in the sense of mutually loving community they develop in the process. There's a spirit of generosity, too, in giving out from themselves into the world, as they do in practicing their art form--and a great return on that generosity: their performances, ongoing since the group's inception in 1982, bring cheering audiences to their feet. And a good sense of humor surely contributes to the mix. They have an ability to laugh at themselves, and at each other, that puts the travails of old age into a healthy perspective. Their joy is infectious, their performances a delight. Old age, accepting itself for what it is, need not be the experience of pain and isolation that many of us fear, but rather a time for letting go of the needs, aspirations and pretences of younger years--in a word, a kind of freedom that takes years to earn.

There is, of course, the imminence of death--a fact that the movie does not skirt over in its celebration of old age. In the course of a single week, just before a key performance, the group loses two of its most beloved and most talented members, and the sadness amongst their fellows is palpable and personal. It could have been any one of them to go, we sense: these two were chosen. If they continue with their work and stage their performance, it is because what those who died would have wished and would themselves have done--an act of honoring that is at once admirable and poignant.

Engaged by the marvelous characters and their dedication, we share in their joys and triumphs as well as in their tribulations and their tears. There's a good deal of laughter, a good deal of song, a good deal of exuberance as we become familiar with these faces, wrinkled with age but rich in the character formed by life experience. The Buddhist teachings have much to tell us about aging, sickness and death, most of all that the key to approaching them with equanimity is the discovery of true happiness--the kind of happiness that derives not from the transitory, not from wealth or material possessions, but from the capital of inner resources and the exercise of compassion for oneself and others. These joyful choristers seem to have tapped into those qualities, and to offer us the inspiration of their commitment to life even as they approach its end.

In the context of which, I woke up this Monday morning grateful to have a surplus of writing projects on my mind: not only this entry, but also some thoughts about the Obamas' session, last night, on "Sixty Minutes," the Ken Burns-produced series on the American West, and further thoughts about who we are, as Americans. More on this later in the week. I also have a new segment of my "Art of Outrage" podcast to be working on this morning...

And... I would not wish to close, after this grim weekend in Southern California, without an expression of compassion to those many who have lost their homes to the dreadful fires that have assailed us. We were fortunate not to have been affected. But here's the view of the smoke-filled Los Angeles basin, seen from our balcony...

1 comment:

Mark said...

What a beautiful post to start out the week! Thanks for the words of wisdom.