Location and Times


This is part of SSUC’s March Spiritual Gathering Series
which seeks wisdom found in 2019 Oscar nominated films. 

Bao centres around a middle-aged Chinese woman living in Toronto. After her husband shoves three freshly-prepared bao (dumplings) into his face and heads out for the day, our protagonist watches as one remaining bao sprouts arms and legs and begins to burble like a baby.

What follows is a chance for this woman to experience all the joys, fears, and sorrows of motherhood. As her child grows, gets hurt, learns new things, and eventually begins to rebel and try to fly the nest with his fiancée, his mother – in a last-ditch attempt at holding on to her dear child – devours him.

While the experiences depicted may be specific to Chinese cultural nuances and intricacies, the themes are universal if, as viewers, we can step outside our own perspective. Our cultural signifiers might be different, we may or may not show our love through food, we may or may not see our own culture represented, but basic human emotions of protection, love, care and home are an experience that spans each of us as humans.

This moment where mom devours her dumpling boy is emotional. The first time I saw this, I gasped. I was taken aback. In an animated film that lasts 7 minutes, we might expect to laugh or to escape with some light entertainment…but this scene hits hard. This moment, as we can see by mom’s immediate reaction to what she’s done, is raw and human; it’s the pain of loss.

I think it’s left up to us whether this moment represented a real-life argument gone wrong, a mother’s attempt to protect her son and keep him at home, or the acceptance of the irony that there was no way she could’ve kept her son safe without losing him.

If our expectations of another don’t allow the kind of freedom

  • that lets a child leave home, or
  • that lets others outgrow the labels and silouettes to we put around them*, or
  • that lets another forge their own path, even if it means diverging from the one we expected,

then this moment in the film is saying to us that our expectations are consuming the ones we care about. We might as well eat them up.

*Mark Nepo, in his book The One Life We’re Given, describes this love in this way:
“We’re too quick to name or label people we meet without taking the time to experience the spirit they carry. And we seldom allow for those we know and love to transcend the name we’ve given them. Then, when they outgrow the silhouette we’ve put around them, we’re surprised, and even see their change as a betrayal.”

Thanks to Domee Shi’s amazing animated short, Bao, we are able to ask ourselves:

  • What might happen when we loosen our grip on our all-consuming expectations…of ourselves, of others, of our aspirations?
  • Where can we see that we’ve been holding on too tightly?
  • What might happen if we give each other the chances we all need to be whole?

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

This is part of SSUC’s March Spiritual Gathering Series
which seeks wisdom found in 2019 Oscar nominated films. 

Bob Merrill and Jule Styne wrote a song for the 1964 Broadway musical Funny Girl that Barbara Streisand sang…and the first verse goes:

People, people who need people
Are the luckiest people in the world
Where children needing other children
And yet letting our grown-up pride
Hide all the need inside
Acting more like children than children

To be human is to recognize that we need each other. And depending on who we are, our upbringing, our temperament, this is variously easy or difficult.

I, for one, when I have a question about where to find something, recommendations about food or a service, or whatever…my first instinct is to research by myself and come up with an answer. I’m always shocked to learn that other people just put this need out there…on social media, with friends, with total strangers… “Hey, I need this. Anyone know anything?”  That is not my go-to. That doesn’t occur to me unless someone says: “You know people, ask them.” Oh yeah.

“Can You Ever Forgive Me” is a 2018 film, with two Oscar nominated actors, that portrays this idea so well…perhaps tragically. Melissa McCarthy is portraying Lee Israel, a real-life biographer who when demand for her kind of writing dries up, turns to fabricating and selling letters from famous authors. As much as this movie chronicles Lee Israel’s stumbling into this criminal enterprise, it’s really a film about a stubbornly independent person being forced to admit—very much against her will—that she needs other people sometimes. But she’s so unpracticed at it that she fumbles her way through even the simplest relationships and interactions.

At one point, Lee is caught off guard by the gently romantic overtures of a bookseller named Anna. And we see just how ill-accustomed she is to receiving human kindness, much less responding in kind. When a conversation becomes too personal, too kind, too emotional, Lee quickly cracks a joke or turns the conversation into a sort-of business transaction. Anything to avoid the fact that another person might have a place in her life. Anything to avoid feeling vulnerable. To quote Lee Israel about breaking up with an ex: “she wanted me to listen to her talk about her feelings, and get closer to her friends, and crap like that.”

She has no friends…other than the new one she’s made in Jack – an equally lonely and pained character. Both of them on the outside looking in…a perfectly desperate situation that allows them both to seek meaning and purpose in less than healthy (and legal) ways.

What would have Lee’s life been like had she the people who supported her through her ups and downs? How might her decisions have differed if she’d been given support and love from family, friends, and her extended community? A different life – and not the same movie, for sure!

Community is powerful. The lack of it is just as powerful to make an impact in our lives and in the direction it takes. When it comes to building and strengthening connection, we each are immensely powerful. We all have the power to offer connection and community to others: community built on the reality that we’re all necessary, unique, and powerful to add our small piece to the puzzle. Wouldn’t it be great for every person to know they are part of something that looks after one another and ensures that no one has to go it alone. What an immense power to be able to give that gift to another.