The Spiritual Balm of the Dollar Theater and Justin Timberlake

JTMomentNote: this post started as a status update on my personal Facebook page, but I decided to share it here as well. I mean, it’s 800 words long. There has to be something worth sharing in there, right? May you find your “JT Moment” this week, too. 🙂
I am supposed to be writing on my WIP right now, but it’s hard to focus on your imaginary world when so much is going on in the real one. And it’s been quite a week in my real world. We got some very hard family news several days ago (not trying to be cryptic – it’s just not mine to share), and it’s a situation in which I am pretty much helpless to do anything. I also lost my job on Wednesday. While this was not wholly unexpected, it makes me sad for the others who were laid off with me; and sad that I won’t be around all my amazing coworkers every day, doing what I love and helping them do what they love better.
This week a 5th grade boy at our kids’ school died following a terrible accident; and while my kids didn’t know him personally, they know a child who (we think) may have been with him at the time of the accident, and of course our whole school community is shocked and grieving together. When you’re a parent, nothing makes you feel as vulnerable as watching someone in your circle lose a child. My heart breaks for that family.
The inauguration was… well. I’m a libertarian so I’m used to being disappointed with elections, but this one (and the rhetoric surrounding it) has been particularly hard and scary for me and so many people I love. I’m inspired by all my friends who got out and marched yesterday: I was with you in spirit and watched the DC march on live feed for hours. I imagined I felt the presence of my mother there in Washington, listening to Gloria Steinem, cheering on all the speakers. In my mind, she’s wearing the “Uppity Women Unite” t-shirt she used to bravely sport around the little shops of Pelham, Ga, at a time when feminism was more than a little discouraged in that part of the world. My mother had the strongest sense of justice of anyone I’ve ever known, and we see it reflected daily in both our kids. I miss her — I miss both my parents — so much right now that the pain is physical and heavy in my chest.
With all that going on, needless to say I’ve been pretty raw the last few days.
So when Hubs suggested we take the kids to see TROLLS at the dollar theater last night, I welcomed the escape; but honestly I didn’t have the highest expectations for it to change my emotional outlook. The theater was PACKED. Lots of other families had the same idea we did, to escape to the theater after a long day of rain and social media rancor. I noticed with pleasure how diverse the crowd was: black, white and hispanic families. A muslim family with a sweet (loud) baby on the row in front of us.
There’s something different and special about the discount theater experience. Various kids around the theater narrated the plot of the movie aloud, and some of the veterans shouted out the funny lines before the characters did. When the baby in front of us got bored and fussy, no one shushed her or gave her family dirty looks. Our kids made silly faces at her to help her calm down. Kids waved their hands in the air and sometimes needed to stand up and wiggle for a minute. It was all good.The discount theater has different rules, and everyone knows it.
TROLLS is a cute, silly movie: a few funny moments, nothing to write home about. But near the end, when Anna and Justin broke into the kid-anthem “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” more than half the kids in the theater (including mine) spontaneously sang along. Little voices of all colors and creeds, sharing their common pop culture experience in a moment of unadulterated, unselfconscious joy. It was beautiful. And I’m only slightly embarrassed to say that it hit me hard, y’all. It was the first time during this whole week I allowed myself to fully, really cry.
And I thought, maybe irrationally, maybe desperately clinging to sentimentality: it will be okay, because one day these kids will be in charge, and everything about every one of them is good and sweet and lovely. This moment — with the sticky floors and the song I’ve heard 1,000,000 times and the artificial sugary smell of the frozen drink I let the boys talk me into — this moment is perfect.
I never thought I would write these words but here they are: Politics and religion and fear may divide us. But our shared grief, social justice, and JUSTIN FRIGGIN’ TIMBERLAKE will bring us together. 

MJ Pullen

M.J. Pullen is a Distracted Writer and the mom of two boys in Roswell, Georgia, where she is absolutely late for something important right now. Her books include quirky romantic comedies and playful women's fiction -- her latest, SUGAR STREET released on 8/7/18. Join her Distracted Readers newsletter list for updates, free content, giveaways and more.

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