New York

“…notstop looking”

by Steve Brock on August 28, 2012

Thanks to a healthy backlog in my Netflix queue, I finally saw the film, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” this weekend.

I have heard others say that it is a hard film to watch. The main character, Oskar Schell, is a boy living in New York whose father, played by Tom Hanks, dies in one of the Twin Towers on 9/11. So the inherent sadness of a story in which a child mourns for his father makes the movie painful. Yet that very pain is what makes the film so powerful.

Even before 9/11, Oskar sees the world in a unique way. He does so in part because he shows indicators of Asberger’s Syndrome, a kind of high functioning autism. Yet through this syndrome, we behold the depths of the father’s love for his son in scenes that take place before the tragic loss of life.

Oskar’s dad understands his son’s gifts and his limitations. To build on the former and transcend the latter, the father devises a special expedition – a kind of quest – for young Oskar.

The father tells his son about the “lost sixth borough of New York.” Oskar’s challenge is to find it or at least evidence of its existence. The father presents a series of clues that require Oskar to do what is uncomfortable for the son: to talk to others and to seek out items in unfamiliar places.

When Oskar complains that searching for clues is hard work, his dad replies, “If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth finding.” With his father’s encouragement and enthusiasm, Oskar makes great progress on this quest. But then his dad dies.

Initially, Oskar is devastated. Then, one year after the tragedy, Oskar ventures into his father’s closet and discovers two things.

The first is a newspaper clipping he has seen before, one where his father has circled the words, “…notstop looking” a kind of credo for Oskar despite the missing space between “not” and “stop.” The second is an old key in a small envelope hidden in a blue vase.

The search for the lock that fits the key becomes a final quest from the father to the son. And what happens on that quest is what makes the movie so brilliant. You’ll have to watch it yourself to find that out.

I’m usually wary of attempts to read into a story more than was intended. Yet here, I cannot resist making comparisons of Oskar’s journey to our own. We may not have a form of autism, but we all have our issues. And we too, have a Father, a heavenly one, who knows our strengths and our weaknesses better than we ourselves do. He has given each of us a quest and has left clues behind for us to find. And with each discovery, we come closer to understanding both Him and ourselves better.

But the beauty of this story, and ours as well, is that we do not travel alone. Oskar can only complete his quest through the kindness and assistance of others. Some of the most poignant scenes in the film are when we witness the impact that Oskar has on the many, many people he meets. In their response to him, they gain much more than they have given.

The sweet irony of his journey is this: It is not in spite of, but because of his brokenness and his “disability” that he is able to complete his quest. He is welcomed by strangers who are disarmed by his blunt innocence and who empathize through their own post-911 loss Oskar’s need for closure.

We too travel more completely in our own incompleteness. The very things we shy away from – vulnerability, dependability, incompetence – are what make us most human, and most inviting to others.  If we travel in such a manner, however uncomfortable that may initially feel, we find, as Oskar does, that our fears dissipate and our connections increase.

And like Oskar, we may reach the end of our quest only to find that what we have discovered is different and yet more powerful and fulfilling than what we thought we were looking for.

But we only find it, as did Oskar, if we are careful to not stop looking.


P.S. As my son pointed out after experiencing the movie, God is not only like Oskar’s father in the film, but like his mother as well. I’ll say no more to avoid giving anything away. But watch the movie and see just how stunning that insight is.

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Magic, music and Montreal – Part 2

by Steve Brock on September 14, 2011

Last time we saw that I wished I liked jazz more than I do. So then, why would I go out of my way to attend the Montreal Jazz Festival this summer?

The answer lies within another trip taken when I was 14.

At that age, my family took a trip to the East Coast. One of the highlights – at least for me – was our time in New York City.

This photo taken on a trip to NY many years later reflects the vibrancy of the city, but none of the magic that rainy day when I first visited Manhattan.

Back in The Journey to the MagicCastle– Part 1, I explained my passion for magic as a teenager. Hollywood may have had Hollywood Magic and The Magic Castle, but New York had Al Flosso’s and Louis Tannen’s, two of the most famous magic shops in the country. You can read the history of Al Flosso’s (the oldest magic store in the US which was at one time owned by Houdini) here.

So when we found out we were going to New York, I begged my parents to go to these two stores, both of which were in mid-town Manhattan. They agreed.

What, in their minds, should have been a quick in and out of some specialty store for their son became a journey of Odyssean proportions. Even though this was the middle of summer, on this particular day it rained. Not this wimpy spittle we call rain here in Seattle, but a Noah-like deluge. We were soaked within ten seconds of leaving our hotel.

Then there’s the whole issue of using the subway and finding your way around when you’re a first-timer to Manhattan. It seems so easy once you know the layout and systems, but on this day, it took us what seemed like forever just to find Al Flosso’s.

Once we entered the upstairs store, I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed at first. Somehow, I expected a labyrinth of stacked books, ancient and mysterious illusions and cabinets filled with gaudily-painted tricks. Instead, the place had a worn, thread-bare feel to it. Al, I learned years after the fact, died later that year, so perhaps we caught him at a bad time. Or maybe this was the way the store always appeared.

Still, I bought a book on card tricks and left pleased with at least having visited this well-known establishment.

From there, it took another seeming forever to go the ten blocks or so to Louis Tannen’s. Here was a more modern, efficient showroom that offered more choices than my budget or my parents’ soggy patience allowed. So I quickly settled on an Okito Coin Box and we departed, my magic shopping spree satisfactorily completed.

We had two days in New York and we’d just spent half of one of them wading our way to places that meant nothing to anyone else in the family. Teenagers don’t show their appreciation all that often – I know I didn’t display as much gratitude for this wet morning as I felt inside.  But something must have shown through…

After a late lunch, the skies remained as porous as ever, so we decided to do something indoors: we were going to see a Broadway matinee. When we checked the theater schedules, my heart practically beat in reverse. One of the shows that had tickets available was The Magic Show starring Doug Henning at the Cort Theater.

Now my parents referred to Doug Henning as “that long-haired hippy-like rainbow guy” due to his hairstyle, mannerisms and attire despite his being one of the most famous magicians at the time (yes, this whole story dates me, I know). So when they agreed to get tickets to see his Broadway play (really, a musical/magic show with a minimal plot), I couldn’t believe it.

Yet an hour later, we sat freezing in our wet clothes in an air-conditioned theatre on Broadway…and I couldn’t have been happier. Even my brother and parents admitted afterwards that they enjoyed that part of the day.

So again, what does this have to do with jazz and Montreal?

You can probably guess. But I’ll fill you in on the details next time…


If you missed it, you can read Part 1 here


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