Thursday, February 2, 2023

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LIFE MATTERS: The All-Consuming Dominance of the Light – The Way of the Good Man

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By Dr. Dencio Acop

How does light overcome darkness? The vastness of blackness in the universe or in men’s hearts may be pervading, yet it pales in comparison to the all-consuming dominance of the light. It seems appropriate to begin 2023 with this topic given the realities that engulf our world today. I shall therefore endeavor to wiggle my way into illustrating my meaning by citing a homily I heard last Christmas and connecting it with an example of a good life documentary I saw while flying over to Washington, DC days later. It was the last time I served in that Parish and the Presider gave a homily that have always captivated me. He echoed what a bishop once said which was that light overcomes darkness when the face of each of us begins to look like that of Jesus. I am sure he did not mean that our faces look literally all the same as Jesus’ more than he likened it to finding our true identity in him. That we find our true selves and purpose in life as we move closer to Him but also lose the same as we move further away by pursuing worldliness instead of holiness. 

Which brings me to Sidney Poitier. The documentary film I saw in the plane. The story of this first black man to reach Hollywood stardom is one that depicts the way of the good man. Despite his fame and fortune and living in a worldly place like Hollywood, he still stuck to his principles and lived according to them. At times, his decisions lost him money and commercial opportunity but he also gained in terms of intangible respect and admiration becoming the icon of not only black people but even the white man. Explaining his choices, Poitier said: ‘You live according to the values that drive you.’ Born poor and two months premature, he got his values and early education from his farmer-parents in the Bahamas. According to observers, Poitier was one of the few remaining Judeo-Christian threads not only in Hollywood but in America and the rest of the world. He conducted his affairs and carefully chose his roles to champion the black man, trail-blaze, and demonstrate values consistent with being a Christian actor. His lead roles in such movies as ‘In the Heat of the Night’, ‘To Sir, With Love’, ‘Lilies of the Field’, and ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?’ all illustrated a character of values over selfish ambition, populism or the ways of the world. Thanks to post-war realizations even in Hollywood, Poitier’s star rose and was recognized. His quiet dignity won him Best Actor in the 1964 Oscars way before the Civil Rights Movement. It can even be said that his success in Hollywood helped propel the Movement inspired by Martin Luther King. ‘There was something in me that was carrying me on, even if I was not that good’ was his only humble response upon receiving the award. 

And when the black civil rights movement in America, including Hollywood, not only wanted equality but dominance, Poitier quit. He only returned when egged on to become a director (1980), a challenge that interested a man who had always pursued productive developments in the wider scope of things. Especially way since the death of King. And temperaments had turned more sober and less political. Poitier was way ahead of his time. When King was assassinated, he said ‘a great man has been taken from us; we should honor his work, his words’. He literally meant the way of peace and magnanimity away from the vengeful rally then planned in Atlanta advocated by more militant black leaders. His partnership with Paul Newman and Barbra Streisand to put up the first film institution for the creative arts and ‘creative control’ paved the way for thousands of black people to work in the film industry. In 1992, Hollywood gave Poitier the Life Achievement Award. The icon was not only a successful actor and director. He also had been Knighted and appointed Ambassador to the Bahamas. And in 2009, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. Nelson Mandela described Poitier as ‘one of those energies that never stops allowing us all to grow’. Poitier was 95 when he passed on in 2022, just the year past. His final words: ‘We extend to whichever life we touch all the good that is in us. I have tried to be the best husband, father, grandfather; pass on the values we’ve learned along the way; and when I die, I will not be afraid of having lived.’ The way of the good man. The dominance of light. 

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