Friday, October 14, 2011

Sidney Poitier

My husband gave me a piece of paper for my 43rd birthday (almost a month ago ... where DOES the friggin time go?).  He teased me with it beforehand - told me that I was getting an "experience" that I would enjoy.  I wasn't sure I believed him (envisioning freezing my ass off in a hot air balloon).  So on my birthday I nervously opened my card (afraid I would disappoint my husband if I wasn't excited about it) and found the piece of paper. 

It was a ticket ... to see Sidney Poitier speak.  He was right.  I was thrilled to get that ticket.  I like the man.  I don't know tons about him, but every movie I've ever seen him in ("To Sir, With Love" is one of my all-time favourites), any time I've seen him speak on T.V., and his book "The Measure of a Man" that I bought and read, all pointed to him being an exceptional human being.  And after seeing him speak last night, that opinion hasn't changed.

Sir Sidney Poitier (a title allowable because he was born in the Bahamas) is 84 years old (where DOES the time go?).  He is still a tall, straight man with a beautiful face and a lovely personality.  The years have taken their toll - as they do - he's thinner than he used to be, and maybe doesn't hear as well - but he's still there in his poise and grace and humour.  He is charitable, compassionate and loving.  A truly great human being. 

He mostly talked about the early years of his life.  He was born pre-maturely on February 20, 1927 in Miami, Florida to a poor Bahamian couple who farmed tomatoes on Cat Island.  The only one who expected him to live was his mother.  Her faith, he feels, kept him alive. 

I won't go into all the details of his life (read the book), but his talked focused on snapshots of his life.  And the snapshots he chose to tell us about were the traumas he went through to get to adulthood - many self-inflicted, some not. 

I walked away from his talk not only with a renewed faith in the man, but with some great things to think about and some epiphanies of my own (the sign of a good talk). 

What I came away from the talk with was this (none of it's new, but it's good to be reminded - and none of it stated outright, but pointed out through the stories):  Our hardships shape us more than the easy times.  We need to understand them, look them square in the face, and then accept them and move on.  If we learn from the hardships, we are doing our job.  If we let the hardships hold us back or stop us from growing, we are failing.

Here was this man who grew up in poverty, the youngest of 7 children, with a lot of discipline and not a whole lot of attention from his parents (they had 7 kids after all), who had little education and got himself into some trouble, and he became one of the world's greatest actors as well as a civil rights icon.  He remained true to himself and to his values and no matter what happened never stopped believing in himself and what he could do. 

After the lecture, somone asked him if there was anything he would have changed in his life.  The part of his answer that stuck with me the most was "I missed many opportunities to be a better person".  The man is deep.  We can all learn from that.


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