Friday, June 19, 2009

84 Charing Cross Road


I just watched 84 Charing Cross Road. Have you seen it? I really think you should see it.

The premise of the movie is familiar - Helene (played with exuberance by the late Anne Bancroft) and Frank (an oh-so-deliciously Britishly reserved Sir Anthony Hopkins) develop a fond & lasting friendship through their letter-writing, having never met in person.

I went in expecting something akin to The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old Summertime, or their modern-day iteration - You've Got Mail. These are great movies, right? I watch "In the Good Old Summertime" every Christmas (despite the movie's name, most of the action takes place during the winter). And I watch "You've Got Mail" every time I fall out of love with NYC and need to be talked back into the relationship. Works like a charm.

Yup, I do adore these movies. They're safety blankets, and I like to get wrapped up in their cozy, sweet goodness. But I gotta tell you - "84 Charing Cross Road" has something even more to offer.

This is a tale of a trans-Atlantic friendship played out on stationary. It was beautiful to hear excerpts of their letters throughout the movie - how they moved from discussing matters of business (he was a London bookseller; she, starved by the paucity of English literature to be found in New York) to sharing familial updates and vignettes from their daily lives.

I wonder if letter-writing like that exists anymore? I know I certainly don't practice it. How simply, how charmingly they shared quotidian experiences and allowed each other to sneak a glimpse into life across the pond.

Their letters brought joy into each other's lives. But more than that, their correspondence drew in a whole community. Helene corresponded with the other employees of Frank's book shop as well, and she sent them food items that were otherwise near-impossible to come by in rationed, post-war England. They were cheered by this mysterious, benevolent woman from America and responded in-kind with thank-you notes and Christmas gifts and friendship. Helene's New Yorker friends were charmed by her interactions with the London set, helping her translate dollars to pounds and bake Yorkshire puddings, and sharing in her excitement to hear their first-hand accounts of Queen Elizabeth's coronation.

So maybe I cried a little during this here movie, watching worlds be bridged by letters - connections made and friendships forged and true kindness practiced. I just found it so beautiful and human.

The movie was made in 1986, based on events that began in 1949. And here we are - in the year 2009 - with so many more, faster, better means of communication available to us. Yet do we use them as effectively, or for such good purpose, as the characters in "84 Charing Cross Road" used their snail-mail international post? I won't speak for you, but I know that I often feel too busy, too rushed to give correspondence much time or thought. It's a back-burner enterprise for me, definitely.

But oh - I was so inspired by the story of Helene and Frank. I want to slow down and be open to knowing the people who God brings across my path. Truly knowing them - not as a means to an end, but as a world unto themselves that is worth my time to explore. I want to make that time - to be so human - to reach out, to correspond, and to make a connection. What else is there, really?

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