Penguin Bloom (2020), directed by Glendyn Ivin

As I have gotten older, I am much more conscious of safety. Whenever I walk down stairs, I instinctively look for the banister. I know that if I am careless and fall, it could actually change my life and make it more difficult. The same fall at 20 years old may be inconsequential; but when I am in my 70s, recovery from a fall is not simple. Penguin Bloom does not tell a story of a senior citizen suffering an injury, but of a young mother, Sam Bloom, who has an accident that changes the arc of her life.

The film opens as the Bloom family is taking a vacation in Thailand. Husband Cameron, his wife Sam, and their boys, Noah, Reuben, and Oli are enjoying the trip, hiking and touring the land. On one fateful day, Sam accidentally falls off a high balcony and breaks her T6 thoracic vertebrae. The result: she is partially paralyzed.

Returning to their home in Australia, Sam, who is an avid surfer, has to adjust to life in a wheelchair. Her entire family supports her, but Sam’s redefinition of herself as a disabled person does not come easily. She is constantly frustrated as she attempts to do normal household chores.

Things begin to change when the three boys bring home an injured magpie chick that is unable to fly. They name the bird Penguin. Initially, Sam has no interest in the magpie, but she takes an interest once she realizes that bonding with the bird will help her connect with her son, Noah, who has grown distant from his mother since the accident. In truth, Noah feels overwhelming guilt because he was the one who encouraged his mother to go up on the balcony in Thailand.

As the magpie’s condition improves, so does Sam’s, especially after she starts kayaking lessons that give her a sense of mobility and self-esteem. Ultimately, there is a family reconciliation after Sam and Noah have a heart to heart conversation about who was responsible for the accident.

Feige Twerski, a Jewish educator, offers a unique perspective on dealing with an accident that changes your life. She was struck by a car and was involved in long-term rehabilitation after leg surgery. Normal life came to a halt, but she viewed her bad fortune as divinely orchestrated. She observes: “Slowing down was mandated by a wake-up call, a message sent by Divine providence. This unanticipated respite in the stream of my life provided necessary reflection and contemplation.” The life-altering accident led Twerski to think about lessons learned from adversity.

Here are some of her thoughts and insights: “Like it or not, my body for the most part was dictating the terms of my existence, and I had no choice but to comply. This was a rude awakening, but I took them as my marching orders from above. I had to let go of all other agendas and dedicate my work for this period of time to recovery. So the spiritual and physical merged and became one, a seamless, fused whole. God appointed us as custodians over a physical body that was intended to serve as an eager partner to our exalted souls.”

She continues: “After such an event, clichés become real. The vulnerability of the human being is of no surprise to anyone. However, when one experiences how dramatically life can change in a split second, the cliché describing the fragility of life takes on new meaning. Accidents and serious injuries become life-altering events. The myth of human control is shattered.”

Twerski felt comforted when she let go mentally and handed her ultimate recovery to God. She knew that, from the aspect of eternity, there was a divinely ordained plan that put her on the road less traveled. She now had a visceral sense of the unpredictability of life that made her appreciate the spectacular now more. In her essay, she quotes Einstein who said, “There are two ways to live your life, one is as if there are no miracles and the other is to live as if everything is a miracle.” Penguin Bloom reminds us that each day can be a miracle.

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