Friday, 2 September 2011

Wake up and stay awake!

Left: Dr Sayer (Robin Williams), Right: Leonard Lowe (Robert DeNiro)

I’ve been watching a lot of films lately, mainly chick flicks if you must know. But one film in particular touched my heart this week, despite the fact it was made 21 years ago. 

Awakenings is about a neurologist who finds himself working with catatonic patients. They don’t speak, they don’t look at you; they are, to the untrained eye, the ‘living dead’.

Everyone has given up on them, but this neurologist (played by Robin Williams) is convinced there is life and feeling beneath those glazed eyes and frozen limbs. He sets about looking for a way to bring these patients ‘back to life’.

Stumbling upon a drug used to treat sufferers of Parkinson’s Disease, the ever-hopeful doctor administers some of the medicine to one of his patients, Leonard Lowe (portrayed powerfully by Robert DeNiro).

All of a sudden, Leonard regains the use of his limbs, his voice, his eyes. He can read again, listen to music, and even fall in love.

Dr Sayer then treats the other patients. The effect is the same and it warmed my heart to see their previously expressionless faces become animated.

The story doesn’t end there, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but I wanted to share the three things it taught me:
  1. Don’t give up on people. However difficult you find your boss, your sister, or the local traffic warden (boo, hiss!), there is a person with feelings in there. They may not respond to you in the way you’d like, but we should persevere with people because we never know when a breakthrough might happen.
  2. Seize life! Leonard gives a rousing speech after he regains the use of his body. “We’ve got to remind them how good it is… People have forgotten what life is all about; they’ve forgotten what it is to be alive. They need to be reminded, they need to be reminded about what they have and what they can lose. What I feel is the joy of life, the gift of life, the freedom of life, the wonderment of life!” Imagine if we all lived like this every day. When the patients ‘wake up’, they are overwhelmed by the feeling of air on their faces, of the warmth of light, of the delight of music. They are a stark reminder that life is for living! 
  3. Have no regrets. Let’s not be like the patients who spend 10, 20, 50 years as statues and then wake up wishing they could have their time again. It’s so sad when people look back at the gifts they wasted, the careers they could have had, the love they never experienced. Dr Sayer says of Leonard that: “He's lived for 30 years in abjection and defeat”. Leonard had no choice in the matter – what’s our excuse?
As far as I’m concerned, the best way to live a fulfilled life is to live it hand in hand with our creator, who sees our potential in even when the world has given up on us. Jesus came to earth so we could “have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). So what are we waiting for?!

Read more from Joy in the next issue of Sorted magazine.

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