When you go out into this world, remember: compassion, compassion, compassion. – Betty Williams
Today was a holiday here, what with nearly the metro’s entire population packing themselves around the streets of Manila, eagerly awaiting Pope Francis’ arrival. As I’m feeling a bit under the weather—and since we’re not hardcore Catholics anyway, although I absolutely admire Pope Francis—we just stayed at home. And in the afternoon, I took a trip down memory lane in the company of my daughter, Amira.
That is to say, we watched To Wong Foo: Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. The film came out in 1995, and it stars Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo as three fabulous drag queens from New York taking a road trip to California, and ending up making a detour at a tiny, dusty town and changing lives—and getting their lives changed in turn.
One of the characters in that film was Carol Ann, played by Stockard Channing. Carol Ann is a battered wife. In one scene, Swayze’s character, Vida, and Leguizamo’s character, Chi-Chi, are in their rented room having a doozy of an argument, flinging insults left and right, while Snipes’ character, Noxeema (incidentally my daughter’s favorite), watched and occasionally interjected her own acid opinions.
Then in the middle of the argument, crying and screaming are heard from an upstairs room. Swayze’s character, Vida, stops in mid-insult, listens and says in concern: “Virgil is beating up Carol Ann.”
The others ask her what that has anything to do with anything, and Vida informs them: “We have to help her.”
Both Chi-Chi and Noxeema vehemently disagree, telling Vida that she has to deal with their argument first, and that whatever is going on between the couple is none of her business. Noxeema’s words are: “There are times when you help people, and there are times when, when you help people, you end up getting killed. So you don’t help people.”
But Vida gives them a steely look and storms out of the room, goes up the stairs, pulls Carol Ann out from underneath her husband’s fists, and proceeds to give said husband a taste of his own medicine, effectively reminding the audience that while Vida was a gentle, elegant lady, she was still, well, Patrick Swayze. Her actions serve to ignite the latent strength within Carol Ann, enabling her to eventually stand up to her abusive husband.
In the middle of the video, I turned to Amira, and told her: “If you’re stuck between two choices, always err on the side of kindness.”
Later, I realized what a pretty bit of phrasing that is, but as noble as it sounds, it is a hell of a lot more difficult to actually live by it. After all, what are the risks of kindness? Possibly looking like a spineless fool, or being regarded as a meddler, or failing to fit in with the rest of the crowd, or being inconvenienced, hurt and maybe even killed yourself. Noxeema was only echoing what society believes is true.
But I’d rather be Vida, and take risks. I’d rather be Vida, and remain softhearted even though all the arguments in the world tell me to grow all sorts of hard shells and defenses. I’d rather be Vida and use my strengths to help people instead of stand back out of fear or a desire to avoid the bad opinions of other people.
In the movie, even Noxeema herself took a risk and opened her heart to a lonely old woman. I made sure my daughter noticed that bit. And as for me, I aim to release my inner Vida more and more.