I had the great pleasure of seeing the two sides of America, one uplifting, one sinister as I moved from the movie house to the theater over the weekend. Sue Monk Kidd’s immensely popular journey of discovery in The Secret Life of Bees and David Mamet’s biting commentary on the American presidency in November helped me better understand the triumph of the human spirit and the corrupting influences of political power.
The Secret Life of Bees is set in South Carolina in 1964 where the struggle for civil rights is at its peak and where those who dare challenge segregation are instant targets of hate. Lily, a young white girl, leaves home with her black housekeepr in hopes of finding the truth about her dead mother. By chance Lily finds the Boatwright family, three strong and caring black women, who produce the best honey in South Carolina. While Lily learns about the making of honey she is thrust into the circle of discrimination and intimidation that is part of everyday life for black Americans in the South. But through the kindness and strength of the Boatwright women, Lily finds her past and learns that a loving family is color-blind, that standing up to injustice is an obligation and that the journey to self-awareness is the ultimate reward of life.
David Mamet’s November has little of the redeeming qualities of The Secret Life of Bees. His play is about the corruption of power, the limitations of powerful leaders and the evil that the nexus of money and power can create in a democracy. Although Mamet’s President Charles Smith is an unquestioned idiot with a disturbing mean streak, his plan to win reelection by putting the arm on a national turkey trade group brings howls of laughter. But President Smith is not completely heartless, just desperate to win or at least raise millions to fund his presidential library should he lose. In the end Smith decides that his legacy will be to marry his lesbian speechwriter and her partner on national television and give up his quest for power and an expensive library. But as the lights go dark on stage Smith leaves the audience with the impression that he just might work a deal to run an Indian casino in his retirement. Always the scalawag.
So in one weekend my mini-epiphany instilled hope in my heart that we will all find our way home and that along the way there will be those who we don’t know ready to assist us in our journey. But I also learned that the lure of power and cash can turn us away from our heart and transform us into selfish money-grubbers with no soul and only a faint hint of humanity. It would be nice if we all ended up as Lily in The Secret Life of Bees surrounded by kindness and love, but too many of us fall into a dark trap and become Charles Smith, con artists trading integrity for a few bucks and ending up as turkeys.