Better living through crossword puzzles.

I am a little bit afraid that this journal is turning into “Kari Reviews Everything,” but . . . I saw a really great movie last night. I know, I know.

I think I enjoy documentary films so much because I enjoy stories about people. Steve Hartman has spent a lot of time on CBS proving that, no matter how boring we think we are, we all have a story to share, and many of those stories are just as (if not more) dramatic and heartfelt as the greatest novel or blockbuster movie. Fewer explosions, less beautiful people, less “perfect” dialogue, but the sincerity can’t really be compared. Part of my love for stories probably comes from my years in youth group and retreats in college – one thing we were taught is that the story of our relationship with God is a beautiful thing, no matter how boring we think that it is. That your story doesn’t have to have motorcycle gangs and drugs and dramatic conversions to be a story of God’s faithfulness and how you are growing in that. I think my story as a Christian honestly is kind of boring, but I also know that my leaders and friends were speaking the truth, which is one reason I have come to see people’s stories as . . . almost a holy thing. A way to connect to other people, to see their humanity.

I also, as you probably know, enjoy stories about relationships. I think a lot about my own relationships: with Mike, with my friends, with family, with friendships that didn’t work out or never got off the ground. I think about why they work or why they didn’t. In college, I started learning how relationships could be refining, how, if I let them, they could help smooth my rough edges. And marriage, of course, has taught me even more about that. I have been thinking lately about how my marriage and my friendships have given me confidence that I am someone worth being friends with. That some of the problems I’ve had with relationships in the past weren’t completely my fault. That I’m capable of loving and being loved. That I shouldn’t let some of the failures of the past overshadow the relationships that continue to grow these days.

But wasn’t I supposed to be talking about a movie? Well, Mike and I saw Wordplay last night, and we both loved it. More than we expected to, even. It’s a fun little documentary about crossword puzzles – the history, the construction, the people who do them, and, finally, the annual tournament. We meet some of the participants (many of whom are past champions) and get to know their stories as we build up to the tournament. And then, finally, it’s tournament time, and people are arriving at the hotel and hugging each other and catching up. And they compete the first day, and they have a talent show that night, and they play games, and Will Shortz is hanging out with them, and it looked like so much fun. I loved watching the community they had formed – one lady was introduced as a first-timer, and another lady quickly said, “Do you want to have dinner with us?” It looked like, yes, there were cliques, and, yes, there was some fierce competition, but . . . everyone was united by their love of crosswords and competition as well as their sense of fairness. One of the most moving scenes was a woman who had been the champion back in the 70s, and who lost her husband at the tournament one year – he had a heart attack on the Sunday afternoon of the tournament weekend. But she said she still comes because she knows he would want her to, and she talked about how there were other people who had also passed away, but she felt their presence, too. I thought that summed up the whole appeal of the movie for me – these people really care about each other, and that’s why they come back year after year.

And that’s not even touching on the incredible skill and knowledge that the people in this movie possess, which was the reason I wanted to see the movie in the first place. (Well, that and Jon Stewart.)

We watched the movie in a tiny theater – at first we thought it was going to be just us and another couple, but then the seats started filling up, and by the end the theater was mostly full, about 25-30 people in a theater that seats no more than 40. We had the kind of movie experience you would want for a small movie about geeks – people laughing, applauding, and exclaiming at all the appropriate times. It was as if we formed a community of our own for the duration of the movie.

In college, we talked a lot about “sharing life” as being an important part of authentic Christianity, but I don’t think I knew what that really meant. I still don’t think I entirely know what that means, but I have a better idea than I did. Last night’s movie made me think of “sharing life” in terms of being in relationships with people who understand (and support) what makes you tick, of the importance of getting to be who you really are without having to put up any fronts or censor yourself, of the value of sharing your interests with the people around you. In a really good way, it made me lament some of my own lost relationships a little less – most of the time, they were lost because there was a lack of truly understanding one another, however that ended up playing out.

Often, seeing other people’s stories reminds me of the value of my own. Seeing Wordplay, a movie that celebrates ordinary people with many different gifts and talents who love crossword puzzles, made me remember that the best way to live is to be who I really am, to celebrate my quirks and embrace my passions. My story is only going to be boring if I try to make it fit some prescribed formula. But a life full of friends (“kindred spirits,” really) and interests (no matter how strange), of love and family, of knowing and being known . . . how could that be a boring story?

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  1. […] saturday…i woke up and decided that i was going to see some movies. inspired solely by kari’s recent entry about the documentary wordplay…i knew i had to see it. since it was, of course, only playing at the artsy movie theater in little rock…i thought i’d just catch a couple movies back-to-back there. something i hadn’t ever done. but then i started running late…and remembered i’d have to swing by an atm if i wanted to see more than one movie at market street (the artsy theater)…because they don’t take credit/debit cards. and i only had $10 in cash. so sad. […]