Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Seeing Annie Through New Eyes

As a kid, I remember my parents taking me to see the Broadway musical "Annie." It was one of the first musicals I got to see on-stage and it made a huge impression on me. The story of a plucky, optimistic orphan struck a nerve in an America going through the Great Depression and into FDR and his progressive New Deal. The musical played off this sentiment, especially with the hit "Tomorrow." I loved the musical and found myself humming tunes like "It's a Hard-Knock Life."

In 1982, the film version of the musical came out. My parents took me to see that one, too, and I even had the soundtrack. I listened to the songs and knew all the lyrics, but they were just that - words to songs. They had no real meaning for me. All I knew of orphans were the Romanian ones that had gained worldwide attention because of the poor condition of their orphanages. But that was another part of the world and not part of mine.

Then we adopted Cava.

I remember the first time the trailer for the newer version of "Annie" came out in 2014. "I wanna' see that!" Cava declared loud enough for the theater to hear him. Since the 1982 version was on Netflix, I suggested he watch that one first. Big mistake!  The cruelty of Carol Burnett's Miss Hannigan caused a visceral reaction in Cava. He began to yell at the screen. It had obviously struck a deep nerve in him. During "It's A Hard-Knocked Life," he shook his head at the girls doing back-flips on their beds and having pillow fights. "If they were in Ukraine, they would get it," he said. When I asked him what he meant, he wouldn't tell me but just shook his head.

We didn't watch the whole film. But what struck me with what I did see again was how much deeper the lyrics were because of my connection to orphans. Hearing Annie singing with longing for her parents to return for her is heartbreaking. Especially the lines:

Betcha' they're young,
Betcha' they're smart,
Bet they collect things
Like ashtrays, and art!
Betcha' they're good -
(Why shouldn't they be?)
Their one mistake
Was giving up me.

How many orphans and kids in foster care can echo those sentiments?  Inside, all of them long for parents that love them. 

Even the catchy "It's A Hard-Knock Life," strikes at their feelings of loss, loneliness, hunger, and feeling that the world was against them and that no one cares. It's all hidden behind the up-beat rhythms and tempo of the song. This is a reality for millions of children around the world and now, whenever I hear that song, it strikes hard at my father's heart.  

The summer movie series started today and the first film we saw in it was the remake of "Annie." This one is updated with an African-American Annie played by the talented Quvenzhan√© Wallis. In this version, she's not an orphan but a foster kid and Miss Hannigan is her foster mom. 

It has many of the same elements as the original but, somehow, Cava did not have the same angry reaction to this film as he did the other. He had seen this one before when it came out on DVD, so when I took him to the theater to see it, I knew he wouldn't get angry and begin to yell at the screen. Still, as I sat beside him, I found myself moved not by the story on-screen, but by the one in the little boy beside me watching it. 

He has lived a "hard-knock life." Those aren't just words. They were very real for a very large part of his formative years. Like Annie, he longed for a family to love him. Whenever I heard him singing along, I found tears welling up in my eyes. When he softly sang along, he meant those words in a way that no one on-screen ever could know. I found myself in tears as I heard him quietly singing, "The sun will come out tomorrow . . ." Not only because of his past, but because this little boy still struggles with fitting in, with belonging at school and with his peers.  He knows what it's like to be "stuck with a day that's gray and lonely" in a way that I never have, but yet he keeps trying, keeps working hard, and has a great, big old heart full of love. 

During the latter part of the film, he leaned over to me and whispered, "Papa, I'm glad you adopted me."

"I am too, buddy," I whispered back and took his hand in mine.

"If I would've stayed there, I would've stayed so angry all the time," he confided. 

Later, he asked me, "What does 'hard-knocked life' mean?" After I explained it to him, he laughed, "Boy, that sure was me."

"But not now?"

"No, not now."

And I'm glad that he isn't.

Love is changing him. He knows he has a Mom and Papa that love and care for him. Like Annie, he is getting a happy ending. 

Still, I cannot help but think of all the other kids in orphanages and foster care who haven't gotten theirs. Are you the family they are longing for?

Please prayerfully consider adoption or becoming a foster parent. Give them a new tomorrow. One that's filled with love and hope and a family. 

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