The Way We Are

February 14, 2010 by  
Filed under How 'Bout That

Junie Merkle

My brother Johnny never lost his sense of humor.  In May of 1985, when AIDS was something most of us had never heard of, he came home.  Our family spent the summer believing he would beat this strange disease by the sheer force of his will.  At the last, as I sat with him in the hospital, he looked over at me and said with a small smile, “You know, I just wanted to be shallow.”  I’ve thought about that comment for the last 25 years, coming to the conclusion that the ability to enjoy the so called shallow moments in life may be an underrated virtue.   Or maybe I’m looking for justification of the absolute joy I felt when I finally saw Robert Redford.  Several trips to Savannah hoping for a glimpse as he directed “The Conspirator” had proved unsuccessful. (I wonder if driving 15 times around a square counts as stalking?)  But my luck picked up when filming began at Fort Pulaski.  Three trips provided three sightings.

The first day was the best. I spotted him just as he happened to look in my direction. No doubt feeling the intensity of my devotion, he squinted and looked again.  I was frozen in time, barely breathing, and trying for a sophisticated smile.  It was one of the happier moments in my life.

If you’re still with me here, I’ll give details about my new best friend Bob Redford.  He has a noble though craggy face (described by Himself as a map of the Southwest), really good hair, broad shoulders and a trim physique. He pulls up his pants a lot, but then so do I, thanks to the ubiquitous low rise pants now in fashion for women.   Although he’s 73 and not the golden boy he once was, he’ll always be beautiful to me.

The part of my brain that prioritizes life is trying to understand why this was such a transcendental moment.  There must be other reasons beyond the way he looked when Barbara Streisand brushed his hair out of his eyes, or when he sat in a sunlit field wearing a denim shirt whispering to a horse, or when he washed Meryl Streep’s hair in Africa.   It’s common knowledge that he’s an environmentalist who supports Native American rights and the arts.  A good friend of mine referred to him as a “flaming liberal”.  All good enough things in my mind, but would I be as enamored if he wasn’t Robert Redford?  I think not.

Alan Alda (who is probably all of the above except beautiful) is quoted as saying, “What is beauty, anyway? It’s more than something pleasant looking. If it doesn’t stop us in our tracks and make us unable to move for a moment, unable to put into words what’s closing off the breath in our throats, then maybe it’s pretty, but it probably isn’t beauty.”

That day at Ft. Pulaski, I was a euphoric deer in the headlights.  I’m not going to spend any more time trying to make it make sense. I will just shallowly and happily tell people for the rest of my life that I saw Robert Redford, and I swear he looked straight at me.  I wish I could tell Johnny.

Junie
Features writer, Junie Merkle lives on Tybee year-round!

Photos compliments of Savannah photographer (and film extra) Elizabeth Osterberger

“The Conspirator,” starring James McAvoy, Robin Penn Wright, Justin Long, Kevin Kline, Toby Kebbell, Evan Rachel Wood (and a host of local extras) is scheduled for release in the fall of 2010.

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