True Grit

True Grit

This winter, my wife and I, along with our two sons and daughter-in-law went to see the re-make of the classic western, True Grit. I liked this version of the movie more than the original. I think the Coen brothers better captured the coarseness of an era when one’s self-respect found moral value in vengeance.

The protagonist, a young girl named Mattie Ross, wants justice for her father’s murder. She hires Rooster Cogburn, a gruff hard drinking marshal, to lead her into the badlands of the old west. Off they go on a journey laden with comedy and violence, their saddlebags full of cornbread and bullets.

The theatre in our hometown of Hood River is small. My wife and I always sit in the back row. There, our older eyes and stiffer necks can relax. The rest of our family sat up front. About halfway through the movie, my oldest son, Noah, headed to the lobby. The rubber tires of his wheelchair whispered on the carpet as he rolled past our seats.

His paralysis resulted from a vehicle accident in 2002. A careless mistake on the part of an uninsured driver led to a broken neck and an irrevocably changed life.

Noah surrounded by his posse at graduation from the U of O in 2006. .

The road we’ve traveled these last eight years roughed us up pretty good. The wrong done to my family felt so egregious, I yearned for the visceral satisfaction of revenge. Like little Mattie in the movie, I too, wanted the perpetrator to face a day of reckoning.

Though the other driver erred, my son’s accident was, … well, it was an accident, unexpected and unintentional. Much of my pain stemmed from grief without closure. I wanted to indulge in the primal urge for retribution, an urge, mind you, that accounts for the popularity of movies like True Grit. My guns were loaded, revenge was mine, but I had nothing to shoot. Anger grew from the frustration, a cancer that soon metastasized into depression.

Meanwhile, Noah persevered. His success at dealing with the injury helped me heal. He painstakingly completed his degree at the University of Oregon, graduating summa cum laude with a BA in Spanish. Then he enrolled in law school at the University of California, Berkeley. He paid for his graduate education by winning a prestigious scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. He finished his final term last December, attaining high honors. Just this week, he accepted a position with the Environmental Protection Agency as an associate attorney in their San Francisco office.

Noah

Along the way, I managed to contract a blood cancer, multiple myeloma. Some people suggest the disease resulted from stress. Perhaps … it’s as good a theory as any. At one time, I would have happily agreed to bargain my health for the health of my son. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that our family can now pause to celebrate. The last eight years moved at an agonizingly slow pace but the box canyon of paralysis was not, after all, a dead end.

Celebrating was exactly what we were doing at the showing of True Grit. Following a short break, my son returned to his seat. We all watched as Mattie got her man amid a fair amount of entertaining collateral damage.

In the real world, Noah has regained much of the independence stolen from him. The true achievement, however, was his distillation of loss into purpose and anger into courage. Re-routing his life took a lot of grit. And that, is all the revenge I need.

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17 responses to “True Grit

  1. I think it is the best revenge that Noah is able to live a happy life and not allow bitterness to taint his future. Maybe like father, like son?

    I’m sure that Noah would have even been able to stop Homer dumping the pig poop in the water supply in the Simpsons Movie – Go on surprise me and say you’ve seen it! 😀

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  2. Your application of the true grit in your lives shows through so well in your writing… I am never disappointed when I read your postings. Thank you.

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  3. The one thing that I learned myself as a cancer patient – and from speaking to others who have been thru diagnosis and treatment – is that the ones who do best, who live life,who are able to see most clearly, are the ones who don’t dwell on the bitterness and anger of the disease.

    I think that’s a lesson learned for both survivor and caregiver – each suffer the disease in their own way and one no less equally than the other.

    I remember – and have written about – an Iconoclasts show I’d seen with Maya Angelou and Dave Chappelle. He speaks of his anger as a black man but she asks him to set aside that anger, because that bitterness eats the host and does nothing to the object of his bitterness and anger.

    You have a beautiful, courageous, adventurous and successful son. There is so much joy to be had in that.

    Good luck and good health to you and your family. There’s a lot more living to do….

    – Jeff

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  4. I think we decide everyday, maybe even every moment, whether we are going to play the role of vicitm or survivor. A victim will feel weak and powerless. A survivor will feel strong and be able to carry on. Noah
    chose well. What an inspiration!

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  5. Beautiful.

    The “distillation of loss into purpose and anger into courage” is a phenomenon to which all we warriors can surely relate.

    Kudos to your amazing son.

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  6. John, what a beautifully touching posting. Its honesty and truth touches me to the heart.

    The funny coincidence is that I was reading the novel, “True Grit,” by Charles Portis the entire weekend, and enjoying it enormously. I haven’t seen the new movie yet, but plan to do so soon.

    I was wondering if it would be OK to mention your posting on my blog and link to it? If not, it’s not a problem at all.

    Best to you and your family,
    Liliana

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  7. Life’s struggles. It has seemed to me for sometime now that life is indeed overcoming one’s deficiencies, tragedies and obstacles. HOW we do that is indeed the bigger challenge. I lost my father at age 12, almost 13. He was a qualified astronaut and one of the original members of the SR-71 squadron. It was an accident in a T-38 that he wasn’t even flying. When you saw the plane it had only crumpled nose gear. And yet my father was dead and the pilot was injured. Known mechanical difficulties, personal problems, a buried report on a crew chiefs desk, pilot error… on and on… none of it mattered to me really, my Dad was gone and no retribution would change that fact. It was my first lesson in such difficult tragedies of life. Which I didn’t really grasp for many years, as I was so young. Like you, it took the time it took. I think dealing with it as well as Noah is your best gauge and from the outside looking in, Noah is quite impressive and you have much to be proud about.

    I don’t like movie remakes generally, old school. But you’ve convinced me. I’ll see it. 🙂 And I want a Kindle too, but have not seemed to convince anyone to get it for me. I’ll try again this spring for my BD and Mother’s Day. Wish me luck!

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  8. What inspirational writing in your blog…it is the first time of reading. And I am sure your sons inspiration in handling his accident and his success in his career comes from a strong and inspirational father. I can only hope that I can achieve half of that with my children!
    Hoping he is loving his new role and that you are enjoying watching his success.
    Deb

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