Be the Change You Want to See

Over the last year, I have watched a lot of documentaries. Each night before bed, I usually am watching and learning about someone. Last week it was Bill Clinton and Bernie Mac. Then on Saturday night, I watched one that I knew nothing about and decided go for it since it kept coming up on our Netflix. Boy was I in for a a night of tears. Dear Zachary, was completely heartbreaking. After watching it, I thought about two others that have gotten to me and have stayed with me:  There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane and Unforgotten: 25 Years After Willowbrook.

None of these documentaries are happy. I was a mess after watching them. Thankfully, I didn’t watch all three back to back or else I wouldn’t be able to leave my apartment. I’ll give a quick synopsis of each. 

Dear Zachary is a film made by the close friend of the  protagonist (I don’t think I have used that word since college). Andrew Bagby was murdered by Shirley Turner after he broke off their relationship. Andrew is much loved by all his friends and they are devastated to learn of his death. Most people are upset when a friend dies but almost all the couples interviewed mentioned wanting him to be their best man or he was their best man at their weddings. After Turner is arrested, we learn she is pregnant with his son, Zachary. The documentary becomes a letter to Zachary but as the film moves on it becomes a true crime documentary. I’ll leave it at that just in case you want to watch it.

There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Mary may hit closer to home as I know that most of my readers remember the 2009 Taconic State Parkway crash.  Eight people were killed when Diane Shuler drove her SUV in the wrong direction on the Taconic . She collided head on. She died along with her daughter and three nieces. It was later found that she was DUI and DWI which was shocking to those close to her because she never showed any indication of alcohol and drug abuse.

Unforgotten: 25 Years After Willowbrook deals with aftermath of the atrocious treatment and living conditions of the developmentally disabled. What a horror story! Willowbrook State Institution was located in Staten Island and has since been demolished.

It got me thinking this weekend, as I was on the Taconic sharing my feelings to Ian about all three documentaries, what specifically moved me. I am not good at remembering the plot points of movies and plays unless I love them or they are part of our pop culture.  Otherwise, forget about it. It is so gone from my head. Then it hit me.

At what point do people become inhumane? How do people turn a blind eye. How does the justice system allow a woman who is accused of shooting her husband to keep custody of her child with no follow up. How do people see an erratic woman with children go about her business? How does Willowbrook happen and no one say anything until it exposed. It makes me think about the instances I kept my mouth shut when maybe I should have said something. I remember one time seeing a guy with fire in his eyes screaming at this woman on the train. I really wanted to say something but I thought she’s going to be okay because she’s in public. Can I say Kitty Genovese? Or when I was teaching and I suspected one of my students being a victim of child abuse. I was a young teacher and didn’t know what to do. There are so many moments like that and I am sure that others have experienced the same in some form. 

I won’t take actions in my own hands but I will speak up. Willowbrook was 30 years ago but that doesn’t mean this isn’t going on today. Diane Shuler was a high-functioning alcoholic. No one saw the signs of her disease. And poor Andrew never got his justice. At least, his parents, David and Kathleen Bagby are advocating for law changes. It was a lesson for sure this weekend as we drove the winding highway of the Taconic.

As a dear friend says often: Be the change you want to see.

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