Herbert J. Cohen
Herbert J. Cohen

Kosher Movies: The Water Man

I frequently receive requests for charity from people who are very sick. Sometimes it is a direct appeal from the afflicted person; other times, it is from a family member. In reading the narratives of these people who are challenged by serious health issues, I am often amazed at the optimistic feelings of people who, in spite of even terminal illness, see life positively.

The Water Man depicts Mary, mother of 11-year-old Gunner Boone and wife of Amos Boone, who is sick with leukemia, but who maintains a positive attitude in spite of her debilitating illness. The film focuses on the extraordinary lengths to which her sensitive and imaginative son goes in order to find a cure for his mother’s malady.

The Boones have recently moved to a small logging town in Oregon. His father Amos, stationed in the military in Japan, has just arrived home after a lengthy absence. He and Gunner do not have a warm rapport.

Gunner is preoccupied emotionally and mentally with the progress of his mother’s cancer. One day he hears a neighborhood girl, Jo, talk about the local myth of a “Water Man” who found a special rock that brought him back to life after a flash flood killed him and his wife.

Gunner researches the legend with the aid of a local funeral director, who informs him that legend has it that the water man still haunts the forest looking for his dead wife to resuscitate. Gunner believes the legend of the Water Man and his power to cheat death.

Gunner then offers Jo cash to help him locate the Water Man so that he can help his mother, and they set off on their journey. The trip is perilous, especially in light of an approaching forest fire that threatens their lives.

In the end, connection to family reigns supreme in times of crises. This fact enables everyone to be positive in the face of adversity and to appreciate the miracles of each and every day. When Gunnar sits down for dinner at the close of his adventure, his mother, invoking God, reminds him of the good messages he has learned along the way and how thankful everyone should be for “the blessing of loving each other every day that we have.”

Beth Goldsammler, a Jewish educator, shares a similar positive   perspective on battling her own illness. She employs three specific mindsets during her sickness, which are worth contemplating. She writes:

1. My life is meaningful.

I am not a victim. Rather I am a loving, smart woman. A believer, blessed with wonderful family and friends. That is who I am. Whenever my illness has me confined to a hospital, I find ways to remind myself of my innate humanity. I am not simply a number on a chart or a compilation of blood tests and scans.

Innumerable people walk through my door on a daily basis while in the hospital. People who are, for the most part, invisible, among the streams of fancy doctors and specialists. Those who clean my room, transport me to tests, take my blood, bring my food. People who do their jobs dutifully, but rarely get even the smallest acknowledgement of their efforts. I make sure to both learn their names and no matter how I am feeling, to thank them wholly and sincerely. These wonderful people who truly take care of my most basic needs are shocked by my simple show of thanks.

This, I have learned, not only brings the staff great joy, but does even more for my own well-being. Each time I can change someone’s day for the better, for even a moment, I actualize my humanity and remind myself how much I can do to help the world, even from my stifling bed. As long as I can give to others, I am very much alive and kicking in every way that counts.

  1. The power of joy.

I have learned that through joy my fellow patients can be a great source of strength for me. It’s more than just the tremendous inspiration and motivation to fight with grace and dignity that they provide. It is the laughter that we bring to each other that is truly healing for us all. Sitting in a recliner while being pumped full of treatments is just about the oddest of circumstances one can meet another in. In that time and space there is no difference among us. Race, religion, nationality… none of it matters.

What does matter, though, is attitude. Bringing laughter to an otherwise morose set of circumstances is a wonderful accomplishment. Laughter truly is the best medicine, and whether the patient is me or a 7-year-old little boy battling cancer, it never fails to leave us all that much healthier in spirit.

  1. Keep the faith.

Arguably most importantly, I never forget from whence I came. God put me on this planet with an express purpose. What that purpose is, I am not exactly sure. But certainly my battle with this illness cannot be ignored in my attempts to figure it out. I have faith in God that even when I am all alone, wrapped in a cocoon of stark white hospital blankets, He is always sitting right beside me, watching over me, and protecting me from the enemy.

Yes, it is true that He brought me to this place, but it is also He Who will ultimately free me from it as well.”

Mary Boone’s courageous fight against disease in The Water Man echoes the words of Beth Goldsammler.

About the Author
Originally from Mt. Vernon, New York, Herbert J. Cohen served in the pulpit rabbinate in Atlanta at the beginning of his career. After six years, he moved into the educational rabbinate and served for 23 years as Principal of Yeshiva High School of Atlanta. In 2010, he and his wife came on aliyah to Israel. His latest book, published by Urim Publishers, is "Kosher Movies: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Cinema." He may be reached at rabbihjco@msn.com.
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