A little over a month ago I went to a panel discussion at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) on adapting Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap for television. The discussion was both fascinating and confusing with at least three or four clashing opinions on how best to adapt a written work for the screen. There came a point in the discussion though, when a member of the audience commented on one of Tsiolkas’ characters – Manolis – in relation to how The Slap presented what it means to be Australian. In response, Tsiolkas voiced some ideas that spoke to me on a very personal level.
Among other things, Tsiolkas acknowledged that Manolis – a Greek-Australian immigrant – was the most Australian of his characters and that, when writing his character, he wrote him for his “nieces and nephews”. Why? Because, according to Tsiolkas (and me), there are values that today’s generation of young people don’t even know about; among those: honour and respect.
When trying to convey how to approach this abyss of the generations, Tsiolkas – a multi award winning novelist and arguably one of the most articulate and revered authors of his time – simply said, “I don’t have the words.” At the end of the discussion I approached him and I didn’t have the words either so I simply looked at him and uttered, “thank you.”
Tsiolkas’ words (or lack thereof) have stayed with me for weeks. Although he touched on many topics, I believe his overall message was one of gratitude; of its once existence and now obvious absence. Which got me thinking: does gratitude in fact still exist?
My mother in law stayed with us last week and, while with us, showed us some photos of her newly paved garden area (see right). Of course, lots of people get their gardens paved but for my mother in law, it meant something far more than a few new tiles where there once was gravel; for my mother in law it became something to be grateful for – and you could see it in her eyes – not only when she spoke about how beautiful she felt the paving looked, but also when she spoke of the people she could share it with.
I look at my mother in law and at Tsiolkas with envy. Not because I’m ungrateful – I most definitely am not; look at our glorious weather today! – but because I feel like they know something that I don’t. The gratitude that I have, sustains me from one moment to the next throughout my day and sometimes, on a bad day, fleets away altogether. The gratitude that I think Tsiolkas was alluding to and that mum inspires me with, is imbedded in one’s being.
I don’t know that gratitude is simply stopping to ‘smell the roses’ or saying ‘thank-you’. I think it goes far deeper than that and encompasses all those tough, old school values like honour and respect. Unfortunately, though, it can’t be taught and, as Tsiolkas highlighted, even the most articulate of us find it difficult to distill it into a pocket sized something. How then are we supposed to acquaint ourselves with it?
Here I’m going to get a little ‘Platonic’ on you all and say that gratitude is not something that we can put our finger on but, rather, is something that we see in its work through other things. Yep. Just like the ‘good’ in Plato’s allegory of the cave. Gratitude is like a spotlight and how we get to know it is through the things that it illuminates. It’s through gratitude that we understand respect, honour and thanks. How can you honour someone before appreciating them (being grateful for them)? You can’t…
A few books came to mind while I was writing this post which I think ‘get’ gratitude. Here they are:
The Alchemist, Paul Coelho
The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas (of course!)
The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran
What do you think? Do you ‘get’ gratitude? What does it mean for you? (I think it’s a tough one!)
Happy thinking xx