Sometimes All It Takes is a Handshake …

…to show appreciation and common humanity.  That is the core message of this heartfelt and often heart-wrenching  documentary, The Way We Get By, about the Maine Troop Greeters, a group of elderly residents of Bangor, Maine, who meet troops on their return from active duty in Iraq, offering smiles, handshakes and a cellphone to make free calls to family, or send them off with encouragement and pride.

When Joan, Bill and Jerry aren’t volunteering their services at the Bangor International Airport in all weather and at all hours, they have plenty of health and other issues on their respective plates.  Joan Gaudet, 75, mother of the film’s director and a grandmother of eight, takes 13 medications a day and worries about daughter Amy’s assignment to Iraq as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot.  She wonders aloud how Americans would feel about outsiders coming here and telling us how to live.  World War II Veteran Bill Knight, the eldest at 87, has seen his life after the death of his wife become overwhelmed by debt, a battle with cancer, and a house full of garbage, clutter and cats.  Yet he faces his own demise with equanimity and his speech is often sprinkled with bon mot: “Leave a car outside and it’ll rust out faster than you can wear it out…just like people.”  Meanwhile 74-year-old Jerry Mundy, wrestles with the death of his son and heart disease, while missing no opportunity to “put a smile on each soldier’s face.”

While The Way We Get By is never overtly critical of American policy, it never finches from the reality of extreme sacrifice as when new arrivals scan a wall for names and photos of their fallen comrades.

The lives of Joan, Bill and Jerry and their passion for this work at ages when many of their peers have decided to sit out the rest of their days, is deeply moving.  Now in wide circulation, this powerful film about the healing power of human connection and how to live each day as if it could be your last, is a must.  Carry a packet of tissues.

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