by Bonnie Anderson and Dan Webster
The Book of Common Prayer is the prayer book of The Episcopal Church. There is a prayer contained in the ancient office of Compline, which is a night prayer that derives its name from a Latin word meaning completion (completorium). A portion of one Compline prayer rings true for the real life experiences depicted in the film ‘Gleason.’
Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours
of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and
chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness;
(BCP p. 133)
The documentary ‘Gleason’ is the true life and continuing story of Steve Gleason, an NFL player for the New Orleans Saints from 2000-2008. Steve’s football career is remembered primarily for the punt he blocked in the first game after the reopening of the New Orleans Superdome following Hurricane Katrina.
In 2011, the change and chance for Steve Gleason came with a diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). ALS is considered to be a terminal neuro-muscular disease. The film ‘Gleason’ is not a, “how I cope with my disease” type of flick. It’s a documentary of the components of a life that many people live. Perhaps not particularly focused around a terminal neuro-muscular disease, but around other challenges that are, in themselves, significantly life-changing and possibly debilitating.
We all have “changes and chances in this life” that happen to us and our loved ones. No one’s pain, sorrow and coping is any better or worse that anyone else’s. And no one’s pain is more important or hurts worse than anyone else’s. It all hurts and these changes and chances are hard to get through.
Steve, through a video journal he created to leave his offspring (Michel, his wife, is pregnant as Steve is diagnosed) before his disease progresses too far, provides reality and all the life that comes with it. We are so, so fortunate to be the recipients of such insightful documentation of feelings, reactions and the realities of living into a changed life.
For those of us who’ve had bad things happen to us “good people” the great wealth of this documentary is the gift that Michel and Steve give us in their honesty about day-to-day life. It reminds us of what it’s really like to live life to the fullest; reveling in the gifts of each day and responding to the sorrows and never-ending hardships as well. We’re also poignantly reminded it takes a toll on those who lovingly provide day-to-day care. And this film points to the thanks that’s owed to the tireless friends, caregivers and family members.
‘Gleason’ is at once informative, uplifting, heartbreaking, heartfelt, raw, sad, funny, joyous and hopeful and all sorts of other things you yourself will be able to name once you see it. And you should see it. We’d love to know what this film was for you.
Our prayer for Michel, Steve and all who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life, Dear God, “…let your holy angels dwell with us to preserve us in peace.” (BCP p.133)
Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California. They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels