If you're any good at connecting the dots I'd wager that there are some clear pictures in your past, of who you are and who you might have become. All it takes is some self-awareness and a definite predilection for remembering the silly things.
I remember watching David Lynch's "The Elephant Man" when I was maybe twelve years old, perhaps thirteen...and I can recall the absolute profound effect it had on me. I was by no means too young to absorb the significance of Joseph Merrick's story, or of how it was dramatically told. I was forever a different young man after seeing that film...forever. It taught me the deepest, deepest of compassions, and inspired a disproportionate degree of empathy in me, much more than any of my peers, and awkwardly enough much more than most of the adults in my life. I remember being the youngest of men and wiping away the tears that the film's most emotionally charged moments inspired. It was Joseph Merrick who showed me what caring can do. Of course, it was John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins doing all of that teaching in the film, but the lesson struck me hard and burned itself into my brain. It was like W.H. Auden had said, "we must love one another or die," and with tear soaked cheeks I understood it to be one of the most sincere promises of my life, even then as a child.
I can count other moments such as this, moments of emotional examination, but none so obvious and overt as the influence that this film had on my head and heart. It is, perhaps, one of the greatest films ever made, but not for any reason that you might expect. The Elephant Man made my heart and my soul porous. It carved it's moral lesson into the most accessible parts of my mind, and it encouraged, no, pleaded with me to spend my days with not just my own quality of life in mind, but with that of others.
Seems a little dramatic for one film's influence, but it isn't. I watched it again tonight and I felt all of those same emotions come flooding back over me. The world is an ugly, awful place, but we can make it beautiful by believing that it can be just that.
I can't wait to tell Zoey that story someday. I can't wait to watch her own influences plant seeds as she grows. I can't begin to articulate what "The Elephant Man" did to me...not in a million years, but you can look at my life and probably see some of it.
If you've never seen the film, you can begin watching it here.