What Moved Me the Most About Hidden Figures Didn’t Happen on the Screen

Hidden Figures poster

The man at the box office appeared unsure when I told him I was the guest of a VIP.

“Hmm. What’s your name?” He checked his list, found my name, and gave me a look that conveyed “Should I know you?”

I played along and gave him my best movie star smile. “I have a friend on her way. Please be sure she is given a seat if I’m inside when she arrives.”

The December day was gorgeous — sunny and warm as usual in this part of the country. As I waited in front of the theater, I noticed a woman staring at me. After an awkward few minutes of smiling at each other, she approached me. I did not recognize her, and my mind started doing that “going through the faces file” thing. Nope. She was not there.

“Hello,” I said. That was as good an icebreaker as I could come up with at the moment. Who is this woman, and why is she looking at me like that? Is it the boots? I shouldn’t have worn the boots. Too casual for a VIP event?

“Hello!” Big smile. “Do you need a ticket? If you’re trying to get in, I can give you a ticket.” Another big smile. It looked almost motherly.

“Uh, no. I’m good.” I did consider telling her that I was Kevin and Christine Costner’s guest, but I decided to keep that little nugget to myself.

We chatted about the movie and our good fortune to attend a private screening before its release. I chose to turn my thoughts away from the initial impression she gave me and tried to enjoy our conversation. “Where is Meredith?!?” did keep popping up in my thoughts, despite my efforts to keep it down.

“Do you know Oprah?” Out of the blue.

I took a deep mental breath. “Personally? No.”

“She lives here, you know.”

My deep breathing may or may not have been audible that time.

We continued with more chit-chat about Oprah, the weather, and other famous people who live in our city.

“I know someone who lived in the South.” Her eyes narrowed and she waited for me to let this sink in.

Uh-oh. Was this woman going to reveal a family secret to me? Cruel slave owners? A lynching? Cousins with mysteriously dark skin?

She continued. “I asked her ‘Do you have maids?’ She said yes! I asked her ‘Did they go inside the house through another door?’ She said yes! I could not believe it!” Her eyes were so wide and her voice was so loud that I completely believed that she could not believe it.

“The movie is about to begin. Please take your seats.” Saved by the announcement, I bid the woman farewell. My friend had not yet arrived, but I was glad for the opportunity to move into a dark theater where I supposed I would not stand out as much as I did outside.

The back row was perfect — my friend could find me easily when she arrived. Her text explained that she had ridden her bicycle across town to the wrong theater — my mistake! — and she was on her way.

I wondered about the life of that woman. Why did she feel the need to share with me the things that she did? I felt sorry for her. She was laying a few of her burdens on me in a way that revealed more about herself than she probably wanted to expose.

Scanning the audience, and comfortable in my seat, I noticed that I was the only black woman in the theater.

Three years ago this month, the story of three women was released as a movie. Hidden Figures introduced the world to Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn — black women who worked as mathematicians for NASA during the Space Race, and used their fantastic minds to put a man into space and on the moon. The movie goes even further to show how these women were pioneers in the areas of racial equality and equal opportunity for black women.

I heard nothing about them while I was growing up during the decades in which these women performed their now-famous work. In school, I loved studying math and science. Yet the only black women that I recall receiving glory from the adults in my community were singers and social activists.

I chose singing.

Finally. I caught sight of my friend entering the theater. She hopped over the back railing to join me. After an introduction from the film festival’s moderator, and a teaser for Kevin Costner’s Q&A after the showing, the movie began.

There was much for me to love about Hidden Figures: Untold history; proof that a PG rating can catch and hold an audience; marriage honored throughout; the excellent acting and captivating storytelling; and, best of all, an ending that left the audience with cheering and uplifted hearts.

The audience rewarded it with a standing ovation, and I was sure that Hidden Figures would be nominated for an Academy Award. “Best Picture” was my hope. It was that good, that entertaining, that educational, that moving.

But something happened while I was watching the movie that is etched in my memory and my heart.

We were at the pivotal scene where Katherine Johnson finally lets her emotions take over to explain why she is away from her desk for long periods. She is at NASA in a room full of white men who have belittled and insulted her day after day.

The movie theater was silent as, through this scene, we all experienced — in one moment, at the same time — the hideous effects of racism.

Then, I heard it. I felt it. I looked to my left.

A older woman sitting next to me was shaking from her silent cry. I saw tears slowly rolling down her cheeks. She looked straight ahead, not once at me.

At that instant, I put aside the fact that I was the black person. I was the one who should be comforted, right?

Instead, I wrapped my arm around her shoulders. We each laid our head against the other’s.

“It’s not like this anymore,” I whispered. “It’s better now.” She did not reply, but that did not bother me.

It is hard to explain my emotions as I saw this woman’s grief. Suffice it to say that I felt a combination of pity, sadness, and love. For a stranger? Yes. For a white stranger? Yes. At a movie on the topic of racism? Yes. My God calls upon me to live this way.

I will never know what thoughts brought such sadness to that woman. She was up from her seat immediately after the credits.

Perhaps it was solely the power of the scene doing what it was designed to do.

Perhaps she remembered a past action which came back with a flood of guilt and regret.

Perhaps she had experienced an injustice herself — against her skin color, in her marriage, within a job position — and this scene was a reminder of a genuine hurt in her life.

Whatever it was, that woman’s silent cry was real, and it moved me. I will always connect her with this movie.

Later, as I remembered the woman I had met earlier in front of the theater, I realized she was crying silently as well, though in a hidden way of her own.

We all have a sad story to share. We all have hearts that can listen and empathize. If you haven’t seen Hidden Figures, please find a copy and watch it. Be moved by the story, and then make it your goal to be moved to help the hidden figures in your own life.

Here is the scene that evoked the tears, along with the following scene which shows Al Harrison (Costner’s character) and his reaction to Katherine’s revelation:

Katherine’s reply to Harrison’s question “Where the hell do you go every day?”

2020: I Can See Clearly Now

Happy New Year!

Flashback.

December 31, 1999, 11:55 p.m., stiff chair, home office:

Picture me in front of my Gateway computer, watching the digital clock tick off the minutes. I was alone and anxious. At midnight, the Year 2000 (Y2K) problem would either occur or not. If the experts were correct, my computer, their computers, the entire world’s computer systems would fail.

An event like that would be disastrous for me. You see, up to and including that very moment, 1999 had been a disturbing year:

  • In January, my husband came home for lunch one day. He let me know he did not want to be married to me anymore. 
  • He left, but half of the “marriage debt” that we legally shared did not. I had been a stay-at-home-wife/mom. Now I was on my own with a 10-year-old son and a typing service with two clients. Rent, food, utilities, and the debt from the marriage — there was more money due than I had coming in. Thank God for child support laws.
  • I gave my typing service an overhaul and called it a secretarial and design business. I worked brutal hours to get it established and gained a good stable of clients. Transcription, graphics, resumes, spreadsheets — without a working computer, I would not have a business. 
  • In November, my mother died of cancer at the age of 68.

And there I was, New Year’s Eve 1999, staring at my computer, after a year like no other, and with the world on the edge of sci-fi-esque destruction simply because a coder didn’t think about a new millennium.

Fast forward. 

December 31, 2019, 11:00 p.m., comfortable sofa, living room:

I am typing on a MacBook Air, which is pretty much the size of my old Gateway’s keyboard with about a million times the power. Twenty years have zipped by:

  • Today we laugh about Y2K.
  • I did not remarry. In the early days of the divorce, I felt that, as a woman, I was deficient in every way. After a pitiful time of trying to convince myself otherwise, I prayed that God would help me to remember who I was in His eyes. He did. That was the beginning of my total satisfaction with being a God-dependent woman. I think men are wonderful, but having time and space all to myself is a gift — definitely not for everyone, but it has been God’s plan for me. 
  • (Side Note: Recently, a co-worker asked me if I had a boyfriend. “No, I don’t. I haven’t had a boyfriend since I met my ex-husband forty years ago.” I gave her my divorce details and ended with this summary: “You really can enjoy the company of men without sleeping with them.” I don’t know if the women who were listening bought into that bit of wisdom, but they all nodded their heads — thoughtfully, at least from what I could tell. Perhaps a little shocked? I laugh when I think of that conversation.)
  • When my son began high school, I retired my business and took on jobs as an administrative assistant. For over a decade, I have enjoyed a steady income and — hallelujah! — company-paid medical insurance. Self-employment is fulfilling, but it is tough to keep your finances in the black when you live in an expensive town and don’t have a second income for the household to enjoy. 

Through it all is God. Present, knowing, unchanging, loving, and forgiving. God carried me and set me down in perfect places, though many of those places would not have been my choices. When I think back on these 20 years of heartbreak, joy, and everything in between, I can see clearly — with a spiritual 2020 vision — that God was, is, and always will be in control of my life, allowing and withholding in ways that He sees best for His purposes, His glory, and my good.

Writing stories, serving my employer, suffering through illnesses, laughing with family, watching loved ones die, or celebrating in a friend’s joy: I want to see and do all of life through God’s eyes, and with the clarity that these past 20 years of His faithfulness give to me.

What is your 2020 vision, goal, focus, hope?

The beautiful art in the photo was created by Cassandria Blackmore, my glass-shattering friend. Visit her website to see more of her awesome work.

“Your Blog Helps Me” — A Precious Message From a Reader

From July 2018:

“Hi, Darla —

Just wanted to say hi and say I’ve missed reading your blog. Or rather to ask if you have not been writing it. I rarely comment, but I love your writing and subject matters. I especially loved the post about your hero, your brother. It moved me (I keep it to re-read occasionally). I had an awful childhood, lousy youth, life-threatening automobile accident at 21 that changed my life, tried to commit suicide, and then was saved. Had a wonderful 36 years with my wonderful husband and suddenly lost him to multiple myeloma and horrible doctor care. Then I crashed and 16 years later I’m trying not to waste what little time I have left. Your blog helps me. Anyway, hope you are doing well and enjoying life.

All the best,
[Reader’s Name]”

Your blog helps me.” I responded right away to her message. I told her that, after a time of focusing on other things and having website technical issues finally solved, I was planning to return soon to sharing my stories. Inspired by her words, I looked towards 2019 with a sparkle in my eye.

December 2018 was a good month. The printed, first draft of a novel was in my hands. My 2019 list of goals was long, organized, and exciting. It was time to get my writing life restarted. On January 1, 2019, I posted an adorable photo of my nephew, which I hoped would inspire all of us for the new year.

Before the end of that month, though, news arrived that put a stop to everything I had planned. I felt like a deflated balloon and lost all desire to create. Writing stories and blogging moved over to my “Maybe Someday” list.

But here we are now, close to the end of the year. The January shock has turned into a gift of greater faith. One day I might share that story. For now, my plan is to return to storywriting in 2020, knowing absolutely that my words may help someone.

Two days after Thanksgiving, I tracked down and reread that email from July 2018. Her words struck me this time in a familiar and more powerful way.

I hit “Reply” and typed a message to let her know I had not forgotten her words, and that I was on my way back to sharing stories.

My message returned with a reply: “The email account that you tried to reach does not exist.”

I double-checked the email address. No, I had not made a mistake.

And so:

Dear Friend:

If you see this post, please know that I treasure your message. I hope that you are still checking my blog now and then, and find that I have returned to writing. I feel honored to know that my stories helped you through your life challenges. Though 2019 was a particularly troublesome year for me, I am confident that God will help both of us to move forward in whatever it is that He wants us to accomplish in 2020.

Sincerely,

Darla