I love my children. I think they’re wonderful and I’m pretty nuts about them.
Please don’t mistake me for a misguided, misinformed, mushy mom. I am quite aware of their sin natures, I dislike some of their personality traits (some are too close for comfort), and I discipline them when it’s necessary. I have never subscribed to the philosophies of the “Feely School” which preaches: “Mommy feels bad when you do that,” or “How did hitting your sister make you feel?” or “Do you feel like taking a nap now?” Of course there’s a place for feelings in our home but we do not allow emotions to rule.
Frank and I have gleaned a tremendous amount from the wisdom found in Christian books and tapes. We are eternally grateful for the assistance of people such as James Dobson, Susan Yates and Dennis Rainey and we can confidently declare the principles they present to be tried and true.
So why this burst of maternal musings?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we give our kids and to what length we would go to demonstrate our love for them.
It was initially released to a limited market in October 1998, but unprecedented accolades and seven American Academy Award nominations have brought widespread distribution and huge box office success. The two most striking aspects of this particular movie-going experience are that I saw it with my Italian Mother (the film is in Italian with English subtitles) and that I was deeply affected by the central theme of sacrificial love unto death—more specifically; the love of a father for his son.
The first half of the movie is pure romantic comedy.
Allow me to expound upon the Italian component. The first half of the movie is pure romantic comedy. It is set in northern Italy in the 1940’s, and Roberto Begnini (director, script writer and main character) is masterful in portraying a clownish man who pursues his beautiful “Principessa” and wins her over with wit, perseverance and true love.
Imagine how my enjoyment of this delightful segment was enhanced by my mother’s outbursts of hilarious laughter. I could not recall ever hearing her laugh like she did that day. Begnini’s script caused her to double over in side splitting heaves but I refrained from turning my eyes in her direction for fear of missing the subtitles! Begnini’s character—Guido, gets the woman of his dreams (and real life wife), Dora, and they have a son—Joshua.
Then, there is the component dealing with sacrificial love.
As quickly as one can turn a page, the tone and setting of the film grow somber as Guido and Joshua are arrested for the crime of being Jewish and put on a long line of cattle-cars heading for a death camp in Germany. Dora races to the depot and insists she be allowed on the train. The Nazi officer tells her to mind her own business and go home. Dora wants to share in whatever awaits her husband and son and although she is not of Jewish ancestry, she demands a place on the train. The Nazi smirks and Dora boards a car full of Jewish women and girls.
What follows in the next hour is some of the most tear jerking, heart warming, gut wrenching, life affirming cinema that I have ever seen. Tears and guts? Warmth and affirmation? How can these emotions mingle? How can a movie about the Holocaust be called “Life Is Beautiful?”
In the final moments of the story, there is an ultimate sacrificial act of love.
Jesus declared that the greatest demonstration of love for another involves the laying down of one’s life. That is a very beautiful, yet very difficult concept for most of us to grasp. I could not stop thinking about that level of sacrificial love for days and days after seeing this film.
The phone rang late one evening and it was my Mom. As usual, she was checking to make sure we made it home safely and to ask how the kids were and to tell me that the movie had caused her to remember something that had been suppressed into the recesses of her memory bank since 1945.
What she told me was quite remarkable and I have received permission to repeat it.
My Mother entered the world as Alessandra Bermani.
She was born in northern Italy in 1934 and moved with her parents to Tripoli in northern Africa during her early childhood. Mussolini had taken this region and my grandfather was “arm-banded” and “strongly encouraged” by the fascists to assist in the industrialization of Tripoli. In 1945, just before the end of W.W.II, my mother was 11 years old. There was much social/political unrest and Jewish persecution continued to take many forms. Angry factions were dragging Jews up to the balconies of apartment buildings and throwing them over the railings into the streets.
On one particular late afternoon, my Mother was left alone in her apartment for a short while.
My Grandmother ran to the market with the babies and my Grandfather had not yet returned from the machine factory. Glancing out a window and down into the street, my Mother made eye contact with a woman who was being chased by a violent mob of men. Within a minute, the woman was banging at my Mother’s door, begging entrance. Without hesitation, Mother let her in and slammed the door shut within inches of the mob’s deafening arrival.
The Jewish woman collapsed to the floor and crawled down the long hallway and under my Grandparent’s bed.
The 11 year old Alessandra bolted the three locks, put her small shoulder under the door knob and leaned her body against the solid wood, ten foot door for the most terrifying ten minutes of her life. She heard the threats. She heard the bargaining. She watched the thick metal hinges loosen. She felt her knees weaken as she watched the door begin to buckle.
She cried out to God.
My Mother never found out why the band of attackers suddenly dispersed that day. The sobbing woman crawled out from under the bed and stooped down attempting to kiss my mother’s feet. She finally stood up, hugged my Mother and fled when she saw that no danger was imminent. My Mother returned the embrace and with a combination of fear, shock and relief, my Mother bolted the locks once again and then something happened that was so painful, she chose not to remember it—that is—until almost 55 years later.
A scene in “Life Is Beautiful” brought it back from the deepest recesses of her soul.
My Mother began to bleed.
She bled from her nose. It was not a trickling nose bleed but a gushing one. The bleeding was profuse and when she finally stopped the flow, she began to bleed vaginally which horrified the 11 year old who had not yet experienced her menstrual cycle. Once again, blood surged from her body and then my Nana returned from the market shocked by what she saw and terrified by the events she was told had taken place during her brief absence. She chastised my Mother for opening the door and held her closely.
My Mother saved a Jewish life during the Holocaust.
Before we hung up the phone, my Mom told me that her childhood ended that day.
I was speechless. My Mother saved a Jewish life during the Holocaust. What an incredible revelation. I have no idea what price she paid to do that. She certainly did not pause to assess the cost. I could never begin to articulate what I have felt in my heart concerning this personal and painful memory that had been buried for over half a century.
I’d like to think that I would risk my life for another human being—just like my Mother did. And I’d like to believe that I would have gotten on that train—just like Dora did. And I would definitely do everything in my power to shield my child from the horrors of a concentration camp—just like Guido did. But—I cannot fathom allowing—no—arranging for my child to die in someone else’s place—just like God did. I cannot comprehend why He would give up His only son. It is impossible for me to grasp why He sacrificed His precious baby. I am at a loss as to why a father would place his son where he would be destined for pain, ridicule and death.
I will never understand how a child could be born for the sole purpose of dying. Why God? Why You? Why Him? Why on a cross? Oh God, help me to understand that level of love.
I need a new heart . . . renew my mind, Lord.
In His infinite love, God sent His only Son into the world to die in order that you and I may share eternal life with Him.
There is nothing we have done to deserve this gift. There is nothing we can add to what has been given. There is nothing we can do to repay His generosity. If you believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins then you will live forever. Cancer, nuclear war, earthquakes, Y2K . . . none of these things can destroy your soul. Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Let us ask the question anew. Who do YOU say He is? The answer can save your life.
I love my children. I think they’re wonderful and I am so nuts about them that I have given them the most valuable gift in the entire universe. It’s not a house, nor a college fund nor a financial inheritance. It’s not Disney World, nor electronic wizardry, nor the best school in town. A T-shirt at a well known kids’ clothing store says “Give Kids The World.” I think not. Frank and I will continue to give our kids the Lord.
Our children are rich because they know who Jesus is.
Indeed, life is beautiful.