Monday, December 15, 2014

Influences on Spiritual Identity: Dead Poets Society

"Dead Poet's Society" a drama released in 1989 starring the late Robin Williams, has had a tremendous impact on my spiritual identity. Much more than one might expect.

It has colored my world in ways that are obvious—ultimately, it is about an inspiring teacher who helps his students find their own voice and seize the day. Indeed, his teaching philosophy is no secret: Carpe Diem! But, I also love it for unsuspecting reasons. 

To me, the movie is accentuated by beautiful and subtle nuances. From the intimate lighting and classical music that characterizes Mr. Keating's office, to the physical landscape that surrounds Welton aka "Helton" Academy, "Dead Poets Society" is rife with beauty. 

I know for a fact, that beauty is precisely why I was drawn to rowing. It's almost strange to admit it, but the reason I even went out for crew at Notre Dame is because of one very brief scene in the movie, one that really isn't even part of the story line. 
And speaking of beauty, I'm pretty sure like many teenage girls, I wanted to be some form of Chris (maybe I still do?!). I have worn the same white ribbon that graces her hair and if I could have found her sweater, I would have worn that too. Where are you Knox?

But the true beauty this film reveals is mentioned in the title. "Dead Poets Society" is the story of an English teacher who casts aside parental pressures and orthodox teaching methods so his students will come to know, understand and love poetry. In his effort to do this, we—the audience—become his students too. One poem that has stayed with me all these years, is one he recites to his class. 

O Me! O Life!

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

A fan of American poet Walt Whitman, Keating enables his students to appreciate what every teacher hopes their students will come to believe. "That you are here" has mattered. In fact, it has made a difference. "You may contribute a verse." The future postings on identity will reveal those verses.

As I say fare thee well to the 60 seniors enrolled in Sports and Spirituality, a semester course, I want them to know what Keating wanted his students to know. I want them to believe and to live the words of Whitman. I will read this poem as part of our final class sharing—a humble yet sincere way for me to express my gratitude for what they have taught me.
NB: Standing in the Olympic Club in downtown San Francisco earlier this evening, I stood next to the marquee that features the photo and bio of a Club member who has recently died. It may appear jarring or unusual to have a small obit in a public place, but it also celebrates the life and legacy of the member. For nearly a month this past year, the card of Robin Williams was on display (much longer than usual). A life that ended too soon, I remember the "Barbaric Yawp" he sounded.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.
R. And let the perpetual light shine upon them

Photo Credits
Keating's poetry

Lady Chris
Movie poster

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