Not all documentaries are created equal. Not everyone's story is interesting or moving or inspiring. Yet sometimes, and surprisingly, it is the simplest actions that have the greatest power, the quiet deeds that make the biggest difference.
And so I recommend that everyone locate a screening of "The Way We Get By" in your neighborhood and take an evening out to go watch. You will not emerge unchanged.
"The Way We Get By" is the story of a group of elderly men and women in Bangor, Maine. There is nothing obviously unique about them. Some live in squalor (in a home overrun by cats and their debris), some are more middle class; some are healthy, some are battling heart disease and cancer and the other tolls of aging; some are married, some are widowed, some have pets (a loyal dog not just the aforementioned cats), some live alone.
But they are all united by a common purpose, a goal they have found and shared. For Bangor is one of the primary airports for the departure and arrival of American troops as they head off to or return from war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And this group of committed citizens is there to greet them when they arrive and wish them well when they depart.
This is not a political statement. Their opinions about the wars are as varied as their lives. This is simply about supporting the men and women who serve in the United States military.
And support them they do. When the flights arrive in the winter it is often bitter cold (this is Maine after all). It is frequently in the middle of the night (they are awoken with a phone call -- "There's a plane coming in at 2:45 a.m.). But it's no matter. Amidst their aches and their pains and their loneliness and their financial struggles, they get up when called and go to the airport.
And they smile. They hug. They thank. They direct the soldiers to the free cell phones and encourage them to make a quick call home. They have cookies and candies and other refreshments set up for the weary travelers. But mostly they offer warmth and gratitude.
These individuals don't need graduate degrees (and they don't have them!) to recognize the power of giving. And on an even deeper level, they recognize and acknowledge that they, the givers, are receiving the greater benefit.
Many of them felt dried up, no longer useful, and reaching out to others has prolonged their own lives.
There was something very moving about the grit of these men and women, about the way they just kept going, putting one foot in front of the other despite their personal challenges.
Many people talk about the importance of doing good. And many end up doing nothing as they wait for the perfect project or a dramatic way to make their mark.
But we could all learn from these average citizens of Maine who just saw a need and filled it -- not for fame, not for glory, not because it was what they always dreamed of doing, but just to show they care. Maybe they're not so average after all.