Sunday, September 03, 2006

Character and Integrity

Last night was “date night”, a great Saturday ritual which I highly recommend to anyone planning to keep the spark of romance alive in a long term relationship. We celebrated our 35th anniversary this past July so we might be doing something right. Date night can be anything from going grocery shopping, going out to dinner, looking at neat electronic stuff at the local toy stores or watching the Astros.

We’d signed up to help clean the church building with several others; cleaning windows, emptying trash containers, vacuuming, picking up broken Cheerios that were in between the pews and the cushions and things like that. Not exactly a romantic Tom Cruise kind of setting; but we were together doing something that needed doing. We did stop off and shared a Philly Cheese steak hoagie on the way over to the church; burning the tip of my tongue, but enjoying a well made sandwich.

After the cleaning was completed we stopped off at Wal-Mart to pick up some odds and ends for the weekend; yogurt, pickles, some really nice hamburger patties and those crunchy puffy cheese things that Sam’s Club makes that are half the price of Cheetos and taste just as good.

Wal-Mart has a DVD clearance bin that you have to wade through to find out if there are any worth having; but at $ 5.50 a movie I’ll sort for a few minutes. I found three movies that we didn’t already own, “Oh, God”, “A Few Good Men” and “Lassie, Come Home”. We got home a little after 9pm and I put “Lassie, Come Home” in the DVD player. For you younger folks this is a pleasant way to spend time together with the one you love without having to expend a bunch of energy; energy that ran out hours ago or that you might have lost sometime a few years ago.

I must be a sucker for the older movies, things that you don’t have to worry about swearing, raw sex and violence to the point of needing a mop and bucket to clean up the blood splatters. “Lassie, Come Home” is a classic quiet movie, a morality play that teaches basic principles necessary to develop decent character traits such as honesty and integrity. Hardly a scene in the movie doesn’t cause you to ponder those important foundations; the need to be accountable, the need to be honest, the need to stand by your word, the need to be compassionate and so on.

It dawned on me that all three of the movies we’d purchased has a similar thread; that personal integrity and character are essential, whether it means testifying on the witness stand during a Court Martial proceeding, standing up to a dubious public when they declare you a fool for declaring God’s words, or a grandfather teaching his grandson about honesty.

There’s the memorable line from “A Few Good Men” as Jack Nickolson’s character is backed against the wall, shouting at the prosecutor, “You want the truth! You can’t handle the truth!” as he tried to justify killing a soldier whom he considered unfit for duty as a Marine. I enjoy the quiet exchanges between God, being played by George Burns wearing his fishing cap, and John Denver, the assistant grocery store manager as they drive down the road. A small thunder shower fills the inside of his old beater, “You made it rain inside my car!” and God explained that there was no reason to ruin everyone else’s day; a smile generator if ever there was one. I would have to say that the efforts of the grandfather teaching his grandson how to accept the many character building challenges leads the pack when comparing all three movies. “Joe, when the sale is made and you’ve spent the money there’s no going back on it.”, as he explained that Lassie was no longer their dog; belonging instead to the Duke who’d purchased Lassie.

For those requiring a bit of violence; there’s a short dog fight scene when Lassie crosses a property line and is considered a threat to a bunch of sheep, then there’s the attempted robbery where the bad guys club the victim’s little tyke with their walking sticks, and a hint of confrontation when the Duke’s hired dog handler gets butted by the grandfather in a not so kind reminder of civil boundaries; other than that you’ll find it rather bland.

I hope these are as important today as they were when I was growing up. I hope that my children watch these kinds of movies too; not that the Harry Potter movies aren’t full of similar character teaching moments also. I hope that my grandchildren don’t get lost in all the meaningless drivel being passed off as entertainment and miss the quiet moments which permit character development as supplied by “Lassie, Come Home”. To borrow from the closing of yet another movie, “Shawshank Redemption”, “I hope.”
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