Col. Frank Slade, former Lyndon Johnson aide who blew out his eyesight with a grenade (he was juggling several with the pins out) -- is one of movie historys great misanthropes.
Was Frank Slade really blind?Slade is blind and lives with his niece near the prep school. He is surly and demanding and completely intimidates Charlie. Although we learn in the films best scene at Thanksgiving dinner how Slade was blinded (through his own carelessness), we never understand what kind of person Slade had been before his accident.
Why is Frank Slade blind?During this time, the cause of Franks blindness is also revealed: While drunk, he was juggling live hand grenades, showing off for a group of second lieutenants, when one of the grenades exploded. As they return to New York City, Charlie tells Frank about his complications at school.
In the film, Scent of a Woman, a blind man can smell the fear of a stranger. Frank Slade, played by Al Pacino, sits in the Waldorf Astoria's restaurant with his companion, Charlie. A beautiful but sad woman sits nearby. Frank instructs Charlie to lead him to the young woman. Frank sits across from her anyway. Charlie finds a chair, too.
Frank speeds through the small talk to see into the woman's soul. Attentive to the music How did Frank Slade go blind?, he asks if How did Frank Slade go blind?
knows how to tango. She confesses that she wanted to learn the tango, but Michael didn't. Michael's opinion shelved her desire--until now. Frank invites her to tango right then. Then the unfocused gaze of the blind colonel elicits another confession: she is scared of making a mistake. If you get all tangled up, you just tango on. With some guidance from Charlie, they find the dance floor and transform it into a world of beauty, free of mistakes. When the dance ends, and their fellow diners applaud, Donna is still beautiful--but no longer sad.
Perhaps her joy comes not from the actual dance but from the time of discernment that ended in a dance. Though they knew each other only a few moments, Frank was a soul friend to Donna.
As the movie progresses, we see that Donna is also a soul friend to Frank. Their dance contributes to his need to forgive himself and to confront his mistakes. Last week, in preparing to preach on a passage from Jeremiah, I came across this powerful observation by L. Roger Owens: Jeremiah was doing what good spiritual directors and soul friends do: they help us to see those things we are holding onto in our lives, grasping at them because we believe they will give us identity, security, and worth.
~ Prophets like Jeremiah get a bad rap for their talk of gloom and predictions of doom. We may not think of such truth-speakers as the friends to whom we want to pour out our hearts. We'd likely be as wary of Jeremiah being a spiritual director as Donna was of Frank when he approached her table. Sometimes the unlikeliest of people can see the deepest glimpse into our souls.
The book of Jeremiah is one example of insights that can set us free from our fears and sins and misgivings.
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The story may not be easy to read, but our minds could find ease in their confrontation of the truth. When was the last time you read one of the Old Testament prophets?
What if we read them not as academic history but as friends desiring our good? Who is an unlikely spiritual director in your life today? As Frank helps set Donna free from her fears and resurrect her buried dreams, let us tend to one another's souls.
Let us be open to the tangos.