Today is Mother’s Day and it’s my last weekend in China. I’ve been in China for the past three weeks, teaching Chinese journalists how to think and shoot in motion. It’s been a tough time and these past three weeks seem more like three years, instead of 3 weeks. I’m missing my home, my husband, my daughter and my personal freedom. Today, I took a well-needed day for myself – to reflect and re-energize for my final week here.
Yesterday, there was a knock on my hotel room door. I opened it to a wet (it was raining), but smiling woman, holding a big bouquet of flowers. Tom and Erin (my husband and daughter) found a way to get flowers delivered to me, clear across the world. Those flowers will give me strength to get through each day this last week here in China – even as they begin to wilt. Like a faded photo of loved ones, carried in my wallet, they will remind me of my support system in my life – my family.
My mom is no longer alive, but her spirit is always with me, especially during the hardest of times. I wish I had told her when she was still alive, how much she buoyed my spirits and gave me strength on my lowest days – I wish I had told her more often how much I loved her. She knew that, even when we disagreed – we connected in unspoken ways.
My daughter, Erin lives in Chicago now, ironically the city I was born in. I had planned to take a trip out to Chicago to see her and her apartment that she moved into almost a year ago. But that trip was canceled, along with my appearance at a screening of Opening Our Eyes at Northwestern, Erin’s alma mater, due to this trip to China.
I knew that this teaching job in China was going to be difficult, I just didn’t realize how difficult it would be. To be honest, I needed the money, making a film has not only been a huge time suck, but one on my finances as well. I didn’t set out to get rich off this movie – anyone can tell you that you are a fool to think you can make money by making a documentary. I set out to make this film because I felt there were some things missing in my own life, but I also felt that “we” (human beings), especially the collective “we” in America, had gotten off course in the last 20-30 years. We had become a “what’s in it for me society” and at the same time become unhealthy and unhappy. Our “successes” and “things” weren’t making us happy. We had become frustrated and yet didn’t even know why – ask any “occupiers”.
In the process of making this film, I not only found my purpose in my life, but also formed an incredible bond with my daughter on our journey and made me grateful for all the things I have in my life that I had taken for granted. Essentially, making this movie saved my life. At the same time, I feel that I have alienated and annoyed friends by talking about it too much and promoting the festivals and awards too much. I sense that I have oversaturated the market and yet I feel the need to stay the course of our ultimate goal of this film and that is to make a difference with this film by motivating and inspiring others as to what they can do to create a shift in our society to become less selfish and self-absorbed. It’s ironic that in doing so, I’ve lost friends because I’ve become too self-absorbed in the process. A filmmaker I met recently told me “you never finish a film – but there comes a time when you are ready to let go”. I’m slowly getting to the point that I can let go – and give up this fight.
Perhaps it took coming to China for me to get to this point. I thought I would have the support of my team while I was here, but in fact for the most part, I felt I was on my one. I will admit that I’m not the easiest person to be with. I have a strong personality and generally say what’s on my mind. On the other hand, I have an extreme sense of loyalty and my true friends know that while I may say things to their face that may be jarring at times, I’ll never do things behind their backs that can undermine them. I never abandon my friends, even when they have hurt me. In fact I often will do things I don’t like because I will put myself second if it means not hurting someone else’s feelings. I have found that by living my life this way, I find out who my true friends are – I have been surprised many times by people who I thought were friends and I found out otherwise. Even at those times, I somehow find myself giving them the benefit of the doubt and believe that after time has passed and wounds have healed from disagreements, our friendships will mend.
There is a lyric, in fact the title of a song “love the one you’re with”. Last week, while struggling to get through the challenges here and missing my family, I got some well-needed support from my students. These nine young Chinese students not only formed a bond with each other to overcome their own challenges of learning video but they became my family. I commented that Sunday was Mother’s Day and that I was missing my family. On the last day, I walked into the classroom and saw that they had drawn a caricature of me on the whiteboard and underneath the drawing they had written “mama”. It took everything I had not to cry. Later when I handed them their certificates of achievement I gave each and every one of them a hug. We had formed our own family that week and we pulled each other through. The word “mom”, or “mother”, or “mama” took on a greater meaning and we all felt it.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the “moms” and our collective mom – “Mother Earth”.