Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Integrity of Kathleen Kelly


I've had the strongest urge to watch "You've Got Mail" this week. I've been making my way through tissue after tissue to emerge on the other side of a cold, and I think its brought to mind the scene where Meg Ryan's character - Kathleen Kelly - is ill at home after losing her business.

I love this film. It's romantic, it's smart, it's becoming more and more old-school as technology moves forward (I get nostalgic at the little dial-up noises their computers make - so quaint!). But most of all I love the fabulous, fictional Kathleen Kelly. We watch her weave her way around so many levels of uncertainty as she experiences isolation in her relationship and opposition in her work. She goes through a break-up, enters the uncharted realm of unemployment, has the aforementioned bout of sickness and struggles with the haunting ache of being bereaved of her mother. And yet there's something I find so uplifting in her handling of it all. I think it's her honesty.

Here is a character who feels things keenly. She is passionate in her likes and her dislikes. She is open with her knowledge and expertise, comfortable with her strengths and realistic about her shortcomings. Which makes her one of the most whole and real people I've ever spent a couple of hours with, despite the fact that she doesn't exist. Throughout the film, she is entirely herself: mean, lovely, vulnerable, strong - her complexity provoking both loathing and love in Tom Hanks' character, Joe Fox.

In some aspects of my life I have authenticity down to a fine art. It took an illness of a slightly more seriousness nature than a cold a few years ago for me to get into the habit of ruthless honesty with myself about my physical limitations. As a result, I'm better at resting, better at saying 'no', better at recognising that I can't give anything of worth to the world if I don't prioritise taking care of myself and there's no shame or selfishness in that.

But I still have some way to go when it comes to having Kathleen Kelly's level of self-acceptance and integrity on an emotional level. Often, I feel like I hold back a measure of the passion I feel in my likes and my dislikes for fear of how they'll come across. I mostly operate in a kind of truce with my strengths (I know they exist and don't mind them being mentioned by others, but I don't like to dwell on them myself). And I have a capacity to be unrealistic about my shortcomings, to the extent that in times past their power to surprise and devastate me has seriously derailed me midway through my (useless) efforts to be so very nearly perfect.

Ultimately, this doesn't bother me too much. I know that through the listen-imitate-listen of my relationship with God I'm putting aside my past perfectionist obsessions and growing into the acceptance and integrity I want - just as I previously learned to be truthful with myself about how much my body could physically take on. But along the way, I like watching "You've Got Mail" and observing the multifaceted example of Kathleen Kelly. It's a fun reminder that being all of it - the good, the bad, the ugly, the success and the 'failure' - actually makes for a pretty admirable person.

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