He wondered if normalcy was something, like vision or silence, you didnt realize was precious until you lost it. -- Cassandra Clare, author
It was a risk. I know. Maybe even kind of a little dangerous. Taking this one chance, after 136 days of being locked up and locked in and prevented from enjoying one cherished past time in my life, thats been with me since I first saw the flicker of shadow and light projected onto a screen, as a little boy at the Wollaston Theater, my childhood palace of dreams.
This past Saturday, I went to the movies again.
It was an impulse decision. Reading the paper, I noticed a story about one of my favorite movie theaters here in eastern Massachusetts, the West Newton Cinema, reopening, after being shuttered since last March. Ive seen upwards of 100 movies there, probably more, in my adult life, so many Saturday nights with pasta at Comellas next door and then a film. Its not a cookie-cutter venue, a cinema one to infinity kind of place, a suburban movie factory located next to the mall, that shows mostly superhero flicks and other blockbusters.
No. West Newton Cinema is as local as local gets. As theater as theater gets.
Opened in 1937, the movie palace has been welcoming viewers into its quaint and cozy building for 83 years, showed its first film in the midst of the Great Depression, and has been entertaining movie buffs like me ever since. Stroll through the heavy wooden front doors as you pass under a marquee filled with titles of current attractions, and then get your ticket from a live person in a booth and enter a spacious lobby, the smell of real homemade popcorn and melted butter making your mouth water. Once a true movie palace, the Cinema boasted of being able to seat more than 1,000 patrons for a single screening, but now it has six screens, showing both art house and popular fare. Its been owned and operated by the same pair of brothers David and Jimmy Bramante (and now their families) for the past 42 years.
I had to go to the movies. I had to somehow get an experience of normalcy and comfort in the middle of the craziness we now call 2020 in this world.
I had to go.
And so, my friend Kacey and I did go, as we have so many times before, making our way up the lobby stairs to theater five, where we found our seats in the third row and also found ourselves the only patrons in the room. The theater has strict COVID guidelines, requires a mask and social distancing and limits capacity to only 25 folks per viewing, but in the end, we had nothing to worry or fret about.
Then the lights dimmed and the projector kicked on and there up on the screen of dreams was Casablanca, the classic 1942 film about life in wartime Morocco and lost love and broken hearts and fighting Nazis and a world all caught up in tumult and fear. It felt like watching a story from a million years ago and a story from right now. At least thats how I romantically imagined it, as I watched tuxedo-clad Humphrey Bogart and the elegant Ingrid Bergman exchange snappy dialogue and stolen kisses and drink champagne at Ricks Caf Americain.
Heres looking at you kid.
Its hard to put into words how deeply grateful and blessed I felt to be doing something so normal as going to the movies and munching on my popcorn, and arranging my long legs over the seats and staring up at the screen, where at 24 frames per second, I was reminded of how much I love films. And art. And a shared creative experience, not just a solo viewing of another movie on Netflix, as I push back in my La-Z-Boy, day 137 of COVID-19.
I know with more than 149,000 already dead in the U.S. from the virus, and millions more infected and the disease now reigniting across the country, my joy at returning to the movies may seem kind of trivial or even insensitive, considering how many folks are struggling right now. And yet, ask anyone who is sick and tired, just exhausted from the COVID marathon that is not near over yet, and I know theyd tell you that they, all of us, we just need a little taste of normalcy right now. Something to soothe our souls and lift our spirits. Something as simple as going to the movies.
As Rick says to Ilsa in the dramatic final scene of Casablanca, Im no good at being noble, but it doesnt take much to see that the problems of three little people dont amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that.
Someday we may look back on these intense times of COVID and understand, maybe even see how we grew and stretched as humans and children of God, and were each called to be our best selves in these days, courageous, even noble. But for now?
Im going to the movies.
The Rev. John F. Hudson is senior pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn (pilgrimsherborn.org). If you have a word or idea youd like defined in a future column or have comments, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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