The Lessons of The Bridges of Madison County

The Lessons of The Bridges of Madison County
Last night I watched one of my favorite movies, The Bridges of Madison Country, the story of true love starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. This beautiful movie has so many lessons to teach us about true Love. True Love is often unconventional. It does not come to you the way you wanted or envisioned. Most people “settle” for a conventional marriage and then get divorced in a few years. In my generation, in the American South, you got married young and if you found out that you didn’t really love your spouse, you stuck it out, like a prison sentence. That was your duty. Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) is living in THIS generation in the American Midwest. Her conventional marriage is like everyone else but her heart is sad, but not yet crushed. Deep within her heart she still yearns for love. It is just that her conventions of being a wife on a farm have steam-rolled over her deeper desires. This beautiful movie shows us many things. True Love may be very unconventional. If you are bound to convention you may miss out on Love! You would need to know yourself to know love, wouldn’t you? How else could you recognize love when it came to you. You have a conventional image in your mind of marrying your high school sweet heart, having good jobs and a house, 2.5 kids and vacations in the Hamptons! Isn’t that about it? Really? That is also the picture of a 60% divorce rate. What if your true love came to you in a very different form? An older man, a younger woman, you name the different form.

One of the things I loved about the movie is the attention to details. I grew up in this time in the Midwest. People really lived that way. Nobody locked their doors. Nobody thought of bad things happening. People would just drop over for a visit and home made ice tea was always on hand to offer people. Most of us couldn’t afford to drink cokes so we drank ice tea. I used to love to visit friends more well off than us because they had soda pop to drink!

The little country roads in this film are all straight out of my childhood. I recognized them all. I have been over them so many times. The little town square with the big Court House in the middle that looked like a castle… that looked exactly like my town of Carthage, Missouri. The people were also accurately portrayed. On the one hand they were neighborly and helpful, unless you stepped out of convention, in which case they were bitterly judgmental and unforgiving. So just what does the movie teach us about real Love (especially as we look at love through the lens of A Course in Miracles)? It teaches us many things. First Francesca did not marry for love. She married Richard to escape Italy. She had dreams of making a life for herself in America. Richard did not respect her dreams. When she found something of herself in teaching, Richard wanted her to stop, so she stopped. Her children didn’t respect her. She liked to listen to Callas on the radio. When they came into the kitchen they immediately changed the station without even asking her. Nobody cares for HER. She is the slave around the house to keep all their lives running in the world Richard wanted. Then when she has lost all hope, her true love comes to her door, in an unconventional way. Robert Kincaid, a photographer for National Geographic, has lost his way on Iowa country roads and has found Francesca. She is amazed at his life of freedom which she wishes she had. Then they fall totally and completely in love with one another, but Francesca does not know how to respond to love. She has never really had it before. She is addicted to her routines. She makes excuses that it would be bad for the kids were she to leave. But look how her kids grew up. They grew up not knowing love and having terrible marriages that didn’t work. By staying with Richard when she really loved Robert she taught her children the life she led, denying love and living by sacrifice.

So there Robert and Francesca are in town after Richard has returned and Francesca has very tentatively decided not to leave with Robert. Robert’s truck is in front of Richard and Francesca. He stays at the light, giving Francesca one last chance. Her hand goes to the door handle and wants to open it. She wants to run into Robert’s truck. At this point anyone who has ever loved is cheering for her, “Open the door! Run quickly to Robert.” She is just finally ready to open the door when Robert drives on, never to see her again. Stupid old Richard cannot even see what is going on.

So what would she have taught her children had she run away with Robert? She would have taught them to accept love wherever it comes to you, especially if it defies convention. She would have taught them to analyze their lives and really look at themselves. In the end, they have to do that anyway as they read her diary. Sacrifice is not the road to love. True love doesn’t call for it. It only asks us to receive it from whatever channel it comes from, conventional or unconventional. Francesca’s love for Robert is the crowning event in her entire life, but she cannot receive it because she believes in sacrifice and convention. That’s a helluva lot of truth in one movie!!

red covered bridge