“The world floods in on all of us. The world can be kind, but it can be cruel. It can give us good reason to hope, good reason to give up all hope. In our lives in the world, the temptation is always to go where the world takes us, to drift with whatever current happens to be running strongest instead of being whole most of the time we are in pieces — and we see the world all in pieces. Full of darkness in one moment, full of light in the next. It is in Jesus of course that we see another way of being human, which is the way of wholeness. No matter how much the world shatters us to pieces, we carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home and that beckons to us.” —Wil Alexander, Ph.D., as he narrates the beginning of the documentary “A Certain Kind of Light”
“The last thing that dies is hope.”
Those are the words uttered on camera by 94-year-old Wilber “Wil” Alexander as he walks down an evening lit hospital corridor after talking to the last person on his hospital rounds, a terminally-ill man. In the new documentary “A Certain Kind of Light,” Alexander faces his own mortality as he serves the patients and healthcare workers at Loma Linda University Health (LLHU) — and as the Center for Spiritual Life and Wholeness works to gather his vision for transforming lives through whole person care.
The documentary was screened by student filmmakers, professors, health care workers, and church leaders from the North American Division on April 1, 2016, at the SONscreen Film Festival held in Chantilly, Virginia.
For the past 40 years, Alexander has lingered at the bedside of the sick and the dying, urging them to tell their stories, and helping in their search for meaning. The 40-minute documentary (see the trailer), directed by Brandon Vedder and produced by Carla Gober-Park, Ph.D. at LLUH, and Keith Wakefield, MDiv, captures the twilight hours of Alexander’s lifelong career in hopes that others can learn and replicate his methods within the health care setting. “Just telling people his story isn’t the same as showing them,” says Gober-Park. “I know, I’ve tried. It just isn’t the same at all.”
After the screening, the audience engaged in a question and answer period with Alexander and Gober-Park. During this session, Gober-Park explained how the film developed. “I met Wil when I was a student in my 20s. . . . When I followed him as director of the center I began to ask the question: How can we capture this? Even though Wil still does rounds each week at 94, we wanted a way to capture the power of story for the future.”
Gober-Park explains, “for years he preferred not to be filmed — he thought it would hinder what was happening in the clinical setting. But the day came when we all realized the significance of capturing his work for future generations and Wil became more open to filming the whole person care rounds (Love Rounds), including his interactions with patients. In Brandon Vedder we found the kind of filmmaker that could capture the importance of story through the life of Wil, and do it in a way that would be poetic and truthful.”
Understanding Wil’s age and the need to capture his work, LLUH’s own advancement team was supportive, stating, ‘Not a problem. Let’s work together. Let’s contract the filmmaker and let’s get this done.’”
Since this past fall, the documentary has been screened at health care events; and it has been shown at 16 film festivals, including SONscreen. It has garnered at least seven awards; Alexander picked up one more as he was presented with the SONscreen Vision Award.
“Vision is something that the world looks for, and that the world needs. But when vision pierces into the mind and the soul, it becomes heavenly vision,” says Dan Jackson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America, as he presented the award. “As I watched the film, I was thinking that Dr. Wil Alexander was moving into the mind and into the soul, and helping it express itself. It liberates, it allows people to express this. That kind of vision is heavenly vision.”
UPDATE: Wil Alexander passed away on Nov. 16, 2016, in Loma Linda, California, at 95 years of age. Click here for an Adventist Review article on his life.