“Some people have a problem dealing with the past”, says Judy Dench’s character in the movie “Philomena”, in which she plays the title role, as a retired Irish nurse who decides that the time has come to confront her own.
Based on the book, “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee”, written by a former BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith, the movie tells the story of a mother who decides to look for the child who was given up for adoption 50 years ago.
But it’s more accurate to say that the child, a product of an unwed teenaged mother and a passing boy, was not so much willingly given up by the convent-bound mother, as he was sold to an American couple who wanted to adopt a child.
The mother’s search for her son was fuelled by several desires on her part. First was to know whether he was still alive and whether he was well. Two of her greatest fears was that he turned out to be homeless or worse yet – obese, due to the eating habits of the people of his adopted homeland.
But I think that what she really wanted was to know the kind of person her son became. Most of us who are able to raise our children, do so with the intention of imparting important values. We get to show and tell them the right things to do. Our love and guidance all contribute to the people they become. She never had that opportunity, and along with letting him know that she never gave him up, she wanted to know who he turned out to be.
The nuns at the convent that had been her home decided to erase the shameful history of the Roscrea Abbey by burning all the records pertaining to the adoptions that they took part in for years. And the Sister-in-charge, while still alive, refused to consider that maybe the punishment meted out to the girls didn’t quite fit the crime. How do you look in the face of a past 50 year old woman now, and tell her that you still believe she deserved exactly what she got back then?
But what I thought was the main character’s unfathomable penchant for finding excuses for those who did her wrong, was really her strength in finding it in her heart to forgive. And like the reporter who helped her find her son admitted, I probably couldn’t do it either.
In the end, she never did get to meet her son, as he was again taken from her – this time by death. He became a successful lawyer, and she comforted herself with the fact that his opportunities would not have been as great had he not been adopted. But her greatest consolation must have been knowing that in requesting that he be buried in the land of his birth, he had not forgotten her – or his past.