Life is change. We are, all of us, in a constant state of flux, no matter how stable our lives appear to be.
It often seems to me that the people who are most successful at living are those who are most adaptable. By successful, I don't mean materially, or even recognition in a chosen field. I mean, rock-bottom success. People making the most of their circumstances, whatever they are, shaping what's there and creating a new reality. For some people, success might mean nothing less than survival itself.
I recently (within the past few weeks) saw two movies that illustrated this dramatically. The subjects were polar opposites, but I found a common theme.
"Nobody Knows" is a Japanese film about four children, siblings, who are abandoned by their mother in a tiny Tokyo apartment. The children adapt to their new circumstances, then adapt again and again, as their world becomes increasingly desperate. It's a sad movie, but totally unsentimental, with a patient, everyday quality, more quietly sad than brutal.
The acting is extraordinary, especially Yuya Yagira and Ayu Kitaura as the two oldest children. It's written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda.
The second movie couldn't be more different in subject matter: "Carandiru", written and directed by Hector Babenco, based on a book by Drauzio Varella. Carandiru was the nickname of a huge, overcrowded prison in Brazil, Latin America's largest detention center, the scene of an infamous massacre (by police). The story is told through the eyes of a doctor doing prison AIDS prevention work; the book is Varella's own story.
The men incarcerated in Carandiru also adapt to seemingly impossible circumstances. They form a community with its own set of morals, rules, comforts and punishments. It's a very violent world, but it's also built on fierce bonds of friendship, loyalty and love.
"Carandiru" is a very good movie, although if you're highly sensitive to violence, it's probably not for you. Most of the violence happens off-camera, but is clearly suggested, except for the final, climactic scene, which is graphic.
The connection between these disparate movies was instantly apparent to me: adapt and survive.
I spend much of my writing life listening to, and telling stories about, people who have adapted to - and transcended - circumstance to form new realities. In 15 years of writing about disability issues, this is the greatest lesson I've learned. Many able-bodied people look at disability and see tragedy - and any disability may have been started out as tragedy. But every one of us has only the hand that's dealt us (to use an apt cliche), plus our own brains, creativity and flexibility, with which to shape it into a life.