As I prepare for my final "Tenderness Tour" in 2009 after 20 years on the road, finally acknowledging that my body can no longer handle the rigors of road life, I find myself often reduced to tears pondering those in the world who've never felt loved.
The "Tenderness Tour," on which I have wheeled over 3,000 miles by wheelchair speaking out against violence towards children, has been my vehicle for trying to reach them with a kind word, a hug, a simple act of kindness.
I thought about the upcoming year often as I was watching "Stellina Blue," the first feature film from writer/director Gabriel Scott about a reclusive young woman who, after being shot and gravely injured in a store robbery, miraculously heals and, just as miraculously, acquires extraordinary gifts for hope, healing, presence and love.
Do you believe in miracles?
Have you ever experienced one?
Have you ever offered one to a loved one, a friend, a co-worker or a complete stranger?
If not, why not?
Stellina Blue (Christina Mauro, "Little Big Top"), so nicknamed by hospital staff after she coded eight times in the weeks after her shooting, never believed in miracles. To hear her tell it, she didn't believe in much of anything and she'd never stepped inside a church...That is, until that tragic night when everything in her life changed forever.
Stellina knew, partly because everyone around her affirmed it and partly because of her own inner sensibilities, that her surviving that night and coming out of a month long coma with her faculties intact was nothing short of a miracle.
Stellina also knew that once received this was a miracle that simply must be given away.
So, she did.
"Stellina Blue" is a tender and touching love story. Yet, the "love" in the love story isn't of the romantic nature (though there are hints of such love), but rather the love we are called to have for one another.
After her recovery, Stellina becomes a young woman who embraces the simple miracles of everyday life and, seemingly, the beauty of those who surround her.
As Stellina, Christina Mauro is simply breathtaking. Mauro's Stellina is an awe-inspiring young woman of magnificent grace received and given.
Is it that she begins to create the miracles in her path or is it that she simply becomes so present, so loving that those in her path allow their own miracles to unfold?
Mauro leaves us guessing, yet that is exactly as it should be. Mauro's Stellina never tries to control the miracle nor define it...she simply tries to give it whenever she feels called to do so.
As Stellina's own life begins to blossom, she feels the need to share the miracle increasingly often.
First, to a young man seemingly paralyzed while trying to rescue a child from a burning building.
Then, with an abusive neighbor (Brian Lally, "The Ape") viciously beating his spouse.
There is the young girl, Kamand, (Ariela Barer) dying of cancer, and again Stellina's loving presence enfolds her and, finally, Jack (Chris Kramer,"Jericho"). Jack is seemingly smitten by Stellina and, yet, emotionally wounded from a bad marriage.
The miracles are different...physical, emotional, spiritual and even financial in nature. Yet, the hope that is restored is universal and it becomes crystal clear that we are to be the miracle for one another.
In addition to Mauro's marvelous performance, Chris Kramer shines as Jack, Navid Negahban ("Charlie Wilson's War") and Julia Wolov ("The House Bunny") resonate as Kamand's grieving parents and, finally, newcomer Ariela Barer is heartbreaking as the young girl who already knows what everyone refuses to tell her.
Richard Riehle ("Office Space"), who also co-starred with Mauro in "Little Big Top," also does a nice job as Stellina's doctor despite being hindered by wooden dialogue.
Recent films "The Ultimate Gift" and "Henry Poole is Here" have both exhibited, with varying degrees of success, the role of miracles, belief and human connection in our lives. While "Stellina Blue" is not without its flaws, most notably occasional wooden dialogue and a couple scenes where the lower-budget indie flick's tech limitations are glaringly obvious, "Stellina Blue" succeeds on a more satisfying level than either of these two films because Scott wisely maintains the mystery of the miracle even as he acknowledges our role in it.
I've never understood why I've received so many miracles in my life.
I've survived and thrived years past what my physicians predicted, and I've maintained a quality of life that continues to astound them.
I've survived, physically and emotionally, childhood experiences with sexual abuse and the adulthood loss of my own wife and daughter in my early 20's.
Why? I often ask myself, why? The "Tenderness Tour" has been, at least for the past 20 years, the way in which I have tried to give that miracle to others. As I face the end of life on the road next year, I find myself asking constantly "What do I do now?"
Stellina Blue, who learned to trust the miracles in her own life and in the lives of those around her, gave me the answer.
I love. That is the miracle.
The Independent Critic