Figuring Hidden Figures

hidden-figures-750x315_origThis film is not one I would normally pay any attention to, yet someone I love enlightened me to it! And so, in her honor and in the honor of the hidden figures, may I share my insights:

—NO SPOILERS—

——1) The film tells the story of three Black women working for NASA during the American Space Race with the USSR. During this heated time between the two world powers, we see the Soviets outpace the U.S. time and again: they get to space first, they send animals to space first, and they send a human to space first, and they bring him home safely, first. It’s all about first.

That leads me to my sole criticism of the film: it overemphasizes the worth of being first in something, it seems to claim that being first is the reason something should be done, but this is a dangerous idea. Sure, being the first female engineer at NASA is great! Sure, being the first person to explore a jungle is great! Sure, being the first in your family to finish college is great! But what about being the first sinner (Adam and Eve)? The first murderer (Cain)? The first to betray Jesus (Judas)?

And so, being first in something does not automatically make it meritorious or worthy. One must be first in something virtuous, just, holy and true; yet even if one cannot be first in those things, being last also works because goodness doesn’t matter if you’re at the top or bottom, but only if you are faithful.

——2) This film is also not just about women! It’s about healthy women who are in healthy marriages and good families. In sum, it is about the feminine genius that St. John Paul II talked about a lot, about how there is a false feminism and a true feminism. Here are the differences between the two:

False feminism advocates that women must be exactly like men in order to succeed, that men and the male lifestyle are the standard, and in order to win, that women must crush men and replace them. The woman must become manly in order to beat the man.

True feminism sees that women and the female lifestyle have their own standards, that a woman never needs to compare herself to a man, because she is incomparable! Men have their own weaknesses and flaws, and so they should not be imitated, but rather challenged and inspired by the women around them to rise to greatness. The feminine genius, and the way God meant for men and women to be, is to support one another as each grows into greatness! We are not opposing teams, but we are a family!

And Fulton Sheen summarizes this well:

To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood.  When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.

hf-gallery-05-gallery-image——3) We also see that a nation that is divided by racism and sexism is unable to accomplish great things. A nation suffering from prejudice and unjust discrimination is wounding itself. This point is clear when we see that only when such unfairness is set aside do we see America rising and outpacing her opponents. I hope we have learned this lesson.

——4) Lastly, in President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech about America’s lunar mission, we hear him say that:

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win …

From this, I saw that the hardest thing to do of all is not going to the moon, or going to Mars, or wherever/whatever. The hardest thing to do in life is to love! Real, true and selfless love for God and for others! And only through this love do we have a chance to accept God’s invitation to enter Heaven!

Common misconceptions of love see it as a good, mushy feeling, but true love is actually a pure decision to keep caring even when everything feels terrible, even when being devoted feels tortuous. In fact, if all those NASA engineers and staff did not love the astronauts they were blasting into orbit, didn’t love the country they represented, didn’t love the mission, then nothing would have happened! John Glenn would never have reached the heavens!

And we will never reach Heaven either if we do not love truly and selflessly.

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The Sound of Snow

snow-933283_1280I know the sound of snow.

Sister taught me how to listen to it whenever Mom and Dad fought. She told me that snow was the sky coming down—Heaven touching the ground with little tip-toes.

Once, I listened so carefully by the window that I didn’t even know the window broke. Sister pulled me from the glass while Mom and Dad threw more things through it. She touched the cuts on my face, she touched the tears on hers, she smeared her cheeks red. She led me to her room and shut the door—the cold reached through under it and tickled my ankles. Sister sang a song while she put clothes in our backpacks. She knew which were my favorite and folded them carefully.

She put everything inside and zipped the bags. She wrapped me in more clothes and closed a coat around me. She called me an astronaut, safe in my suit, and told me we were going to the moon. When she opened her window, we climbed into space and watched the stars fall. She shut the window and erased our tracks while we walked.

We walked until the sky fell faster. The trees turned white and the houses were icebergs. I waited in Sister’s footprints and watched her climb the floating ice. She crawled into its caves. Her flashlight sparkled like an icicle wand.

She waved to me and I followed her inside, brushing our footprints behind me. The cave was big and empty. We found old bottles and boxes, leftovers from other explorers. We found a tub full of mud and a bed full of bugs. They were dead. They fell on the floor like sand.

Sister unrolled her sleeping bag and turned off her light. She put me inside and we shared the bag. I felt her breath on my cheek and her stomach shake. She started to shiver. I turned around but she turned away. I listened to her. She wanted to go home.

“We can go back now,” I said, “we can come again tomorrow.” The moon and the iceberg and the cave were not fun anymore.

Sister was quiet for a long time.

“We can’t,” she whispered.

“Why not?”

“It’s not safe,” she said, “just listen to the snow. Go to sleep.”

I listened.

I woke from deep inside the whale’s belly. The sleeping bag swallowed me. There was enough room now for me to swim, to reach, to wonder where Sister went. I squirmed from the bag like a cocoon. I walked to the window. The sun melted the snow and made it smell like rain.

Sister was in the backyard picking up snowballs. A snowman held her hat in his skinny hand. An igloo sat like a sea turtle on the beach. Sister crawled inside the white shell. I ran outside following her footprints.

“Why didn’t you cover your tracks?” I asked.

Sister stuck her head out from the shell, “Because we’re safe here.” She smiled and tucked back inside. I tucked inside, too. The turtle shell was just big enough for us, and quiet enough for us to hear our breaths and heartbeats—and our stomachs.

“Where are you going?” I asked when Sister ducked out the turtle’s neck.

“Getting our stuff. I brought snacks!”

She disappeared into the brightness outside. I listened to her footsteps munch the snow. Inside, the sun glowed through the shell like a cloudy day. I lied down and tried to guess where the sun was. I listened to it melt the snow. I poked a hole into the ceiling, peeked out, and tried to spot the sun. I knew I found it when a little lightning bolt shot inside.

Then I heard thunder.

I crawled from the igloo and found a mountain. It was black, brown, and made of broken wood. I looked at the other dark houses, but they were not the cave.

I followed Sister’s tracks to the mountain, but she did not come out.

I tried to climb it, but the steps kept moving, the mountain kept breaking. I watched the wood and waited.

Then I heard Sister’s shivers.

I put my ear to the mountain’s side and tried not to breathe.

But her breaths stopped instead, and all I heard was the sound of snow.

 

©Evan Pham, 2016 (Written Dec. 11-13, 2016)

I Saw The Light Between Oceans

140672CM01B_Trp_Email_LR.pdfAn actress who has become a fast fave of mine is Alicia Vikander. When I saw she was in “The Light Between Oceans,” I knew I should see it. Coupled with Michael Fassbender, and it became something I had been looking forward to for a few months now. And so thankful am I to have not been disappointed. Here are the shining moments of the film:




—SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) As a man, it is difficult for me to relate to the experience of miscarriage. Yet, my heart was pierced and my gut was gutted when I saw the trauma in Isabelle’s (Vikander) two losses. The helplessness of both mother and father as the child comes stillborn, the vulnerability of life, the hopes suddenly spilling, all of it was so cruel and devastating. It helped me think of times my own friends endured such loss, and while I only heard the news after the fact, seeing it portrayed as it happens is terrifying.

Yet, the scene here also shows the irony of intentionally and deliberately terminating unborn children in the womb, aka: abortion. We have couples who are desperate to save their unborn children from miscarriage but are helpless and at the mercy of their infertility, yet then we also have merciless couples desperate to destroy their unborn children. And the only difference between the two kinds of couples is that one truly loves their children, and the other is inconvenienced by them.

the-light-between-oceans-michael-fassbender-alicia-vikander-rachel-weisz-002159-r_1920_1080-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx—–2) On the note of parenthood, Isabelle shares that (paraphrasing): “When a wife loses her husband, she becomes a widow, but when a mother loses her child, she remains a mother always, even if she has no children left. I wonder if I am still a sister, since I have lost my brothers.”

This is such a profound insight that reflects the “till death do you part” vow in true Christian marriage, when spouses vow their fidelity with such determination and faithfulness that only their death might end it. Hence, a surviving wife becomes a widow, or a surviving husband becomes a widower. However, this film demonstrates the permanence of motherhood and fatherhood on many levels.

One level is that Isabelle and Tom (Fassbender) are parents, even with their loss of two stillborn children. Parents are always parents, even if all their children have gone to judgment before them (by whatever means). Parents who loved their lost children must realize however, that the children are not lost, but are waiting for them in the hereafter. Parents should then live so as to strive to be with their children again, to pray for them and ask them for prayers.

Another level is Hannah (Weisz) remains a mother too, despite her thinking her daughter is dead. And we also see that she remains a loving and devoted wife to her lost husband, revealing that though she is a widow, she remains his.

And powerfully foiling Hannah, we see that Isabelle struggles to remain Tom’s. She disowns him for surrendering to justice, and she does not allow herself to love him again until it is almost too late. Eventually, she finds forgiveness and also surrenders to the truth. I was so grateful to see this story go this way, the way of fighting to keep a marriage, to keep a love beating at the moment it has bled out.Alicia-Vikander-in-The-Light-Between-Oceans

—–3) And we see in this story (unlike in Kubo and the Two Strings) that the truth must always and will always have its day. Nothing good, not even a seemingly happy family, can be built on a lie and deception. Tom’s character, so morally formed and conscientious, cannot live with the lie, with keeping a child hidden from her true and loving mother. Tom knows the deception and must right it. Even in the end, Isabelle realizes her love, however honest it is, is flawed when founded on a lie.

In fact, the lie ages and wears down Tom and Isabelle and leaves them childless in the end. Even Isabelle yearns and hopes Hannah could forgive her for the evil she did. This film is dripping with the characters wrestling with the truth and finding out that the truth is alive and far more subtle and cunning than their greatest deceits. Lies die, and then Truth rises up alive.

Most beautifully done, however, is that we see after the truth is respected, the relationships bloom on a sure future. When truth becomes the foundation of love and relations, then it becomes easy and beautiful. The catharsis we see when Lucy-Grace (as a grown woman and mother herself) visits an aged Tom is something that could only have happened with the support of the truth.the-light-between-oceans-michael-fassbender-alicia-vikander-rachel-weisz-349486-r_1920_1080-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx

—–4) Finally, great acts of forgiveness abound in the story; acts so great that even the police question why anyone (in this case, Hannah) would forgive the couple who is suspected of murdering her husband and kidnapping her daughter. But we see that this is how a happy and fulfilled life should be lived. Hannah remembers wise words from her husband (paraphrasing): “It’s too hard to resent, you have to think about it and remember it all the time. It’s tiring. It’s better to forgive so you can live.”

We also see, as mentioned earlier, how Isabelle forgives Tom, and thereby allows them to live a better marriage into old age. However, we must also note that Tom has forgiven Isabelle: for originally insisting they keep the baby and hide the body of Hannah’s husband, for refusing to admit the truth, and for finally revealing the truth even when it meant her conviction and imprisonment. We see here how Tom’s love led him to forgive her all these times, every time.

And that’s exactly it: only love makes it possible to forgive, and if not your own limited love, then for God’s infinite love.

—–BONUS) Two mothers fighting to keep/regain a child… sure reminds me of the case King Solomon once heard (1 Kings 3:16-28). Yet, in “The Light Between Oceans,” we see both women willing to part with the girl when they realized she was better off with the other. How beautiful a twist to put on the renowned Biblical story.

—–Note: I also appreciated the sound baptism and Christian marriage being celebrated, and the chastity portrayed in the couple’s relationship. But religiously, what caught me most was the solemn chanting of prayer in the score when Tom first encountered his daughter’s true mother, and the truth staring him down and demanding him make things right. In the background, a minister’s words about sin, and our mission to oppose it and refuse it, also adds to the theme of the story: A lasting love and family must be built on truth.

Kubo and the Two Stings

kubo-and-the-two-strings-kubo-legenda-samuraizeIt is very easy for me to critique and focus on negatives, so on Holy Smack I try my best to be positive, but sometimes exceptions must be made. This is one of those times. See what I mean here:




—SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) is a movie I really wanted to not only like, but downright love. From the trailer I could tell the artistry of the film was epic. They even had animated origami, which has been a dream for me to see realized on film ever since I wrote scenes of it in Little Miss Lucifer.

But alas, despite how beautiful Kubo is visually (and it really is stunning), the film falls short of a beautiful story. The tale is generic, and lacking catharsis (a smacking-good ending that truly satisfies deep down). When the show ended, I actually could not wait to leave the theater because I was so let down (sting #1).

This taught me that a story must be as compelling and dramatic as the visual effects and cinematography, otherwise it doesn’t have a lasting effect: like a stunning sunrise on busy commuters. As gorgeous as the scene is, people just walk by and get to work as if it was nothing more than a glare off the mirror. They live the rest of the day, and repeat the next morning, with not a care at all about the sunrise, because there was no compelling story accompanying it.torontohenge-sunrise-april-2016

Imagine instead however, if the sunrise coincided with the reunion of long lost lovers, lovers who traversed all night to reunite… if that dawn meant the revival of past love, restarted after decades apart and years of loss: now that’s catharsis. Now that’s a story I want in on.

—–2) What I really liked was the dynamic between mother, father and child. In the film, we saw easily how both the mother and father are essential to Kubo, yet we also see how each contributes in different ways to raising their child. In today’s world, this uniquity of fatherhood and motherhood is being smothered with people who actually think fathers are not necessary, or mothers aren’t special. In reality, every child deserves to have a father and a mother, specifically the very mom and dad who gave them their biological being. Yet, even if this is not the case, a substitute mom and dad should be found for the child. Yes, BOTH an adoptive mom and dad should be sought, since both are vital and can offer things only a mother and a father can.19919315-mmmain

—–3) Lastly, the big lie at the end of the movie is unacceptable (table-flipping unacceptable). We see the entire village dupe Kubo’s amnesiac grandfather into thinking he is a saint, when actually he was a murderer and monster. The reason this does not work is because forgiveness and love will never last when built on a lie. Nothing lasts when it is founded on a lie! It might be nice to lie at first, but in the end, when the truth comes out (it always does), the wound gets even worse because all that friendship and love was a fraud.

This film, by ending this way, seems to be incredibly misleading. It may even think that the only way to forgive someone is to lie to their face and say that the bully, criminal, rapist or murderer is actually a great person! First, this lying does not let the evildoer learn from his mistakes, and also does not let him repent and seek forgiveness and make amends. The lie is only a soggy bandage on a festering sore.

girlboy-healing-staystrong-time-favim-com-1585818

Photo credit: Favim.com

A common line is “Forgive and Forget,” but this is actually inadequate. Imagine: it is easy to forgive someone if you completely forgot they maimed you and thought it was a falling rock instead of them smashing you with a hammer. It is easy to forgive if you forgot your friend backstabbed you with a secret that you confided in them, but instead thought that you had posted the secret online yourself. It is easy because to forget is not real forgiveness (sting #2).

Real forgiveness: you remember exactly what happened, the betrayal, the evil, but you decide to love them enough to forgive them and help them, you love them enough to give your friendship another shot, to let lost trust a chance to heal. And do I wish Kubo had that kind of ending…

—–4) For more thorough and thoughtful reviews on Kubo, please see here and here.

kubo_and_the_two_strings_desktop_backgrounds_2800x1800-1

Child Will Miss This

Child will miss this,
Will miss wind on her skin,
Miss this air lifting her cries,
Whisping her voice to the skies.

Child will miss sun on her hair,
Warming each strand
As Mother’s hands braid
And comb them into a crown.

Dad will miss the sound
Of Child’s laughter,
The only sound that
Blooms into music in life hereafter.

Child will miss Brother and Sister,
Will miss the rivalry
And the revelry of sharing
Family together.

Child will miss this world
As much as the world is deprived
Of who Child could have been
If only Child had not died
While yet inside

Mother misses Child,
As her tears have testified.
And Dad prays for Child,
Never to neglect.

Brother and Sister neither forget
Their friend,
Though they have never met,
They long a reunion

Perhaps in dream and pondering,
Merely wandering their fantasies
At who Child could have been
If Child were named rather than maimed.

Child will miss herself,
Will miss discovering her life
And miss knowing the love
We were meant to give her.

 

Evan Pham – May 12, 2016 – In honor and memory of children, motherhood, fatherhood, and siblinghood lost to abortion.

My First Love Notes

Around this time, seven years ago, Theology of the Body [TOB] became real. It wasn’t just something intellectual and textbook smart anymore. It showed me why God made me the way I was; why I have a mind, heart, soul and body; why I was not some poor soul trapped in flesh; and even why angels are kind of jealous of us human beings (jealous in a good way for the unfallen angels, and jealous in an evil way for the fallen).

Most importantly, this Theology of the Body from Saint John Paul II tore off a leech that had begun ravaging me since I was a little fifth grader. For ten years, I lived with this worm of sin, constantly tempted, perverted, and lustful. My adolescence was spent struggling for freedom, for life that was better, more beautiful and true.

And that’s when a dear friend of mine (many thanks, Mr. Dang) randomly handed me this CD that showed me exactly how I had always wanted to live — even though I didn’t know it back then. In fact, after I listened to it, I hit replay right away! I started taking notes! And it wasn’t even a class! I just had to get this down! On replay for days…

So now, attached for your pleasure and for the glory of God, made public for the first time ever: My First Love Notes (because with TOB I was finally starting to learn how to love)…

Click here for more of my TOB posts.