Friday, May 3, 2013

In which we leave Laguna Beach to eavesdrop at a movie theater

Maybe "eavesdrop" is too strong a word. The public was invited to "listen in"at Corona del Mar's Port Theater on Thursday night as three fascinating people shared thoughts on overcoming obstacles with an audience of residents from Friendship Shelter. This resilient, well-managed nonprofit provides services and shelter to homeless adults and is celebrating its 25th year. Not content to simply have a party, its innovative staff came up with a constructive, educational element. "Speaking of..." is the theme for a speaker series aimed at giving shelter residents food for thought; this one was called "Speaking of Conquering Mountains." 

The first speaker, Santina Davies, made a misstep while hiking on Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, and tumbled 160 feet. Athletic and trim, she spent the next six years in painful rehabilitation, after suffering lacerations to her head and face, a collapsed lung, broken wrists and–worse–a severed spinal column. She was airlifted, unconscious, her lungs filling with blood, and spent seven weeks in a Cape Town hospital before she was allowed to fly home to the U.S. Doctors told her she would likely never walk again. Determined not to spend life in a wheelchair, Santina gritted it out, promising herself she would do all she could to walk again. Her message to the rapt audience: "Never give up on yourself. Never."Through intense pain, dark moods, and innumerable hours of relearning movement, she walked confidently – in a beautiful pair of black Tod's high-heels – to and from the chair at the front of the room for her interview with Mark Miller, director of programs at Friendship Shelter. In closing, Mark asked her about her new challenge she learned about just this week. Santina disclosed that she is battling breast cancer; surgery is set for a few weeks from now.

When she walked back to her seat, she received a standing ovation.
Santina Davies and Paola Porrini-Bisson in 2009. 

Next up was Santina's close friend, another strong, Italian-born woman, Paola Porrini-Bisson, a Laguna Beach realtor turned film producer. In introducing her short film, The Nightshift Belongs to the Stars, she reminded guests to set a goal and reach it, "Whatever you want to do, work toward it. I did it, even with a strong accent." Her 30-minute film, based on a story by famed Italian writer Erri DeLuca, chronicled a nuanced victory of two heart surgery patients who vowed in the hospital to meet again and go rock climbing together in the Dolomites to celebrate their recovery. The film itself is a victory; starring Nastassja Kinski, Julian Sands, and Enrico Lo Verso, with an appearance by DeLuca, it was short-listed for an Academy Award, and two weeks ago won at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Julian Sands and Nastassja Kinski in Nightshift

Capping the evening was more physical mountain climbing as Dr. James Doti, president of Chapman University, shared his other life - that of an adventurer who has climbed six of the world's peaks, including the South Pole's Mt. Vinson in 2009. He showed photos of the ascent to the top of the 16,067 peak, and advised listeners that "When it's easy, mistakes are made. If you let your guard down when the path seems less arduous, that's when you are most at risk." He related the story of one of his climbing partners, Suzanna Derby, who was completely prepared for the challenging Mt.Vinson expedition, but lost two fingers to frostbite on what should have been like a walk in the park on a domestic mountain because she did not adequately prepare for low temperatures. 
Dr. Jim Doti and Suzanna Derby plant the Chapman flag on Mt. Vinson
Stay tuned as more "Speaking of..." talks will be announced by Friendship Shelter later this year. You'll want to, listen in.