In this scene from Schindler’s list, Ben Kingsley, playing Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s accountant, holds up the list, the names of Jews who Oskar Schindler intends to save from the Holocaust, and he says “the list is absolute good. The list is life.” I’ve always loved that scene, because it suggests something remarkable; that we human beings, weak and puny and foolish and selfish as we are, are nonetheless capable of rising above our own pettiness to do something genuinely, unquestionably good.
It doesn’t happen often, of course. Most of us aren’t capable of sustained goodness. Oskar Schindler certainly wasn’t. But every once in awhile, we humans rise above ourselves and do good in the world. And the people who do that, who manage a moment of sustained grace, are people we think of as heroic. We want to talk about them and their actions. We want to encourage self-less goodness.
I have a friend, for example, who manages more than occasional goodness. He and his wife own a dog, a massive Newfoundland, a big shaggy black dog of unsurpassed gentleness and friendliness. Jet is his name, and he’s a trained therapy dog. I’ve written about him before. I’ve seen him work; he goes into a children’s ward in a local hospital, and he cheers up sick kids. He’s amazing; he’s much bigger than the kids, and yet they sense his good will–they hug him and pet him and let him pull them around in their wheelchairs. My friend and his wife take Jet out as often as busy work schedules will allow. Certainly Newfoundlands are perfect dogs for that kind of work, but they require tremendous training and discipline; this didn’t just happen. Still, therapy animals strike me as absolutely moral, as doing something unequivocally good.
In fact, I’m not sure we realize how much genuine good happens all around us. Adults who work in the Boy Scouts or the Girl Scouts, ballet teachers and soccer coaches and youth Shakespeare companies. I have another friend, Lori Sanders, who runs an organization called Center Stage Youth Performers. I’ve seen her kids in performance. It’s marvelous to see; they manage to find the perfect balance between fun and discipline. The kids do great work, learn a lot about themselves and the growth and confidence that can come from performing, but have a great time doing it, too. Is it always an absolute good to work with children? Not always, of course not. But often. Usually.
Politics can be an ugly game, and it’s not always possible to see much good in it, or even the potential for good. But I’ve been reading a very interesting book about the Presidents’ Club; the informal but sometimes very productive relationships between former Presidents of the United States. I was reading about the horrendous South Asian tsunami of 2004, perhaps the deadliest in history. Presidents Clinton and George H. W. Bush (Bush 41) were asked by President Bush (43) to travel to Indonesia to see what they could do. The two former Presidents–former political opponents, members of different political parties and philosophies–joined forces, raised hundreds of millions of dollars, used their influence to fast-track aid to the worst areas. They have since joined forces repeatedly, raising money for relief efforts in Haiti and New Orleans and elsewhere. Now they’re working to alleviate poverty in Africa. I think that’s inspirational, and a great tribute to both men, that they were able to set aside their differences and just . . . help.
But on a much smaller, personal plane, let me tell you about my friends Kirt and Jerry, and their new baby, Oscar. Kirt Bateman is one of the finest actors I have ever had the privilege to work with. His husband is Jerry Rapier, the artistic director of Plan B Theatre Company in Salt Lake. A year ago in July, Jerry and Kirt were finally able to marry, in New York. And now, they have a baby.
A young unmarried couple in South Carolina, Emily and Tyson, found themselves pregnant and unable to care for their baby themselves. They made the incredibly unselfish choice to give their child up, to allow Jerry and Kirt to adopt him. He was born a few days ago; his name is Oscar. He’s adorable, with a full head of hair (he actually has more hair than either of his follically challenged Daddies!). And every day on Facebook, we get Oscar updates. A few days ago, Jerry posted that he and Kirt have “joined the ranks of people who have long, detailed conversations about poop.” I had to smile; I remember those days!
And I know what they’re going through. Babies aren’t always fun; I promise that Oscar will have times when he’s a grouch. I remember them all. The long, sleepless nights, holding a cranky kid hour after hour, watching the kind of horrible TV that’s actually on at 4 in the morning–the shopping channel, the infomercials, the Spanish-language soaps. Explosive diarrhea takes on an entirely new meaning, as does projectile vomiting. I promise they will learn that ‘hopping mad’ isn’t just a nifty turn of phrase–that some tantrums really do involve a child so angry he hops up and down. It won’t be long before they’ll both get to experience that rare and wonderful pain that comes when a sprinting two year old’s head collides unexpectedly with tender parts of your anatomy.
And they’ve already felt that incredible, sudden rush of pure love that comes when you look at your child, this tiny human being for whom you are entirely and personally responsible. Those beautiful moments when he drifts off to sleep. That trusting sweetness resting in your arms.
Tyler and Emily chose life. They could have chosen differently. But they chose responsibly, lovingly, unselfishly. And they’ll be part of Oscar’s life as well. That’s how adoption works nowadays, as something open and honest and celebratory. But Tyler and Emily chose Jerry and Kirt, just as Jerry and Kirt chose lifelong commitment, just they chose each other. And I can’t wait to see them all, this whole wonderful family, bound by the same love that my wife and I share. The same.
Love is an absolute good. Families are good, marriage is good, children are good, all good. So think of Ben Kingsley, as Itzhak Stern, pointing to little Oscar in his daddies’ arms, and saying to us all: this, this is absolute good. This, this is life.