Yesterday my friend Michael came to my school. Because my advisory had raised money ($500.00) for the La Casa Norte fundraiser (see earlier post), he thought he would say “thank-you” by screening the film Alzheimers: A Love Story at school. This film is a documentary which chronicles his and Gregory’s 41 year relationship including the last 12 years after Gregory was diagnosed with early onset of Alzheimer’s. I invited the Social Justice Club, Prism (LGBTQ club), and the Short Films Club to join my advisory during our activity period. There were close to 50 kids in the classroom.
Michael’s opening remarks included his experience as a gay man, growing up in the fifties, and the challenges of the gay rights movement from when he was a middle schooler until today. He talked about his and Gregory’s relationship and the impact that Alzheimers had on their lives. (His full remarks can be found on Michael’s blog.) Then we watched the documentary. Many students cried during the 15 minute film. Afterwards there was a Q & A with Michael as well as the sharing of Tootsie Roll Pops that Michael had brought for all.
It was remarkable to me how serious and sincere the students were. Their questions were real and heartfelt. “How did you know you were gay?” “When did you know you were gay?” “When did your parents know you were gay?” “What advice do you have for young people who are gay?” “What advice do you have for dealing with family members with Alzheimers?” FC, in tears, said, “I don’t know how you could be so brave and so courageous.” Michael answered, “No, you will be so brave and courageous too. That’s what you do when you are in love with someone.” At the end when students headed off for their next classes, Michael stood by the classroom door, shook each person’s hand, and thanked each one for coming. When the student who had told him how brave he was came up, he gave Michael a big hug.
It was clear that these 8th graders were hungry to talk about relationship and caring and love. It was clear they were eager to talk about feelings and yearnings and desires, as well as the logistics of navigating a life that is not necessarily considered mainstream. It was clear that they genuinely connected to the film. They asked earnest questions. Their earnestness was met with Michael’s articulate frankness and gentle wisdom.
After Michael left, my next class filed in. Many of the students had attended the previous screening. We talked for another ten or fifteen minutes about the movie. None of us were in the mood for class as usual; we were emotionally drained. So we went outside to play four-square. It was a beautiful day and we all felt like being together, outside, in the sun.