Thursday, 10 May 2012

Pink Fairyland

For a few minutes last week I felt like I was in fairyland. Every year I set aside time for the “Hot Docs” festival in Toronto; I see as many as I can during the daytime hours when those of us over 60 get in free. The documentary films show a kaleidoscope of human experiences, most of them foreign to my own. 

I watched one story about two American men who spent every available hour fly-fishing in Oregon, the Gulf of Mexico and in northern B.C. The scenery was pleasing but their one-note obsession puzzled me. Where were their spouses, their jobs, never mind the nearest bathroom? 
Another film featured a man who held a similar depth of passion, but for not for fishing. He was a skateboarder in California. In his 30’s, at the top of his sport, he found sponsors who paid for an expensive, giant ramp to be built so that he could jump the Great Wall of China. Like the fishermen's, his life's focus was a curiosity to this Toronto girl, and at the same time, very interesting, especially after I heard about his childhood losses. 
One documentary camera recorded a memorial trip taken by a British ventriloquist who filmed herself, alone in her motel room, having a bedtime “discussion” with her favourite puppet! She was attending an American convention of ventriloquists (yup) and had brought with her from England several puppets she’d inherited from her deceased mentor. She was grieving his death and trying to decide whether to give up her peculiar artform.
And then there were the stories of five individuals who protested injustice, each in their own context, from circumstances as different as the awards ceremony at the Olympic Games in Mexico City, a children's protest march against school fees in Chile, and a church's prayer service in communist East Berlin. These reports portrayed courage and discouragement, decisions that led to miraculous success or unexpected after effects. 

The films were fascinating and stimulating glimpses into lives I couldn't have imagined. It’s always a little disorienting to leave a dark theatre and walk outside into daylight, but after watching these works I felt like I was changing worlds when I exited.

The most moving documentary was a ghastly story about the kind of child-neglect and abuse that turns some foster children into twisted perpetrators of violence. In the middle of the horror, astonishing love persisted, but the suffering by all parties was hardly bearable, even to watch. I cried most of the way through “My Name is Faith”. I met the movie’s precious young hero and her brave, though battered, adoptive parents. Why would I watch a true story like Faith’s? That same week, in an odd conjunction of word usages, I happened to read Evelyn Underhill’s quote,
Faith is not a refuge from reality. It is a demand that we face reality, with all its difficulties, opportunities, and implications.” 

What happened to fairyland? Here's the other half of the picture.
One of the challenges at festivals is making your choices among the many worthy but conflicting options. The show times are staggered and the venues blocks apart; your schedule gets ragged. Between screenings one day, I had an hour to wait. I bought a frozen yogurt from a hoity-toity Yorkville store and thought I’d sit streetside and tune out the city’s lunchtime hustle. My eye was suddenly caught by an ethereal dreamscape. 

In between a wall of expensive stores and the traffic on Cumberland Ave. there’s an unusual park. Almost a block in length, the park includes a house-sized hump of rock representing the Canadian Shield, a boardwalk through swampy triangles of reeds and a pretty grove of paper-birch trees, but my focus was on none of these. 

I found myself staring at a pastel pink carpet of petals. It looked fantastical, spread before me. I stopped dead, spoon halfway to my mouth. Under a canopy of cherry trees lay a flagstone walkway, dappled with the sunshine that filtered through new spring leaves. Sleek, purple-feathered pigeons with their funky red feet pecked their way back and forth amid the pinkness and dancing light. I felt like I'd wandered into  fairyland. Traffic noise faded. I stood there, stilled by my awe at the beauty – a perfect mix of sun and shadow, delicate springtime tints that could be named "Orchid" and "Cloud", an artwork of peace and calm. I breathed it in like perfume and fresh air; I consumed the vision like a satisfying meal. My soul relaxed.

Faith in God “demands” that I face reality - painful puzzles in one hand, pink petals in the other.