When white college kids descended on Mississippi to participate in the Voter Registration Drive in the 1960’s, Zach McIntyre was with them, anxious to make a difference. He was an idealist and was willing to risk his life to make a change. Now he’s an old man in his seventies who finds himself in Benson, Wisconsin, broke and unable to do his usual stint of odd jobs to make his way.
Zach dropped off the grid about 10 years ago after he was brutally beaten at the hands of a young black kid strung out drugs. This experience took him down the path to disillusionment. Is this what he fought for? Risked his life for? So that a young punk could run the streets, terrorizing old people and not having the slightest idea of the struggles that gave him the freedom to not fear anything? The freedom to take for granted his right to exist without fear of lynching?
The life he walked away from included a successful teaching career, a successful book called Ideas vs Idealism and an award winning documentary by the same name. But a successful family man he was not. He had married a young black woman he met in Mississippi but their love was doomed and their only daughter, Abby, resents her absent father. Yet when he left, he turned all his assets over to her and told her not to give him any no matter how many times he might ask.
But now he is desperate. Now in Benson, Wisconsin, Zach is at the end of his odyssey to get in touch with what’s really important in life. A bum knee and a bad back have almost felled him and his pickup truck has broken down. He’s been off the grid too long, even letting his driver’s license expire, and nothing is easy anymore. He calls Abby and she convinces him to come home, that his grandchildren miss him, that she misses him. He agrees because he’s old and tired but it seems just too little, too late.
Meantime, Amanda Plainfield starts her own odyssey searching for Zach. Their paths crossed in 1965 when he came to her hometown to raise funds for the Mississippi project. She was shy young black woman who didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life. But she was drawn to Zach foe reasons even she didn’t understand. At one point when his car broke down and he had no transportation to continue his fund raising, she offered him the keys to her car and told him to keep it as long as he needed. Grateful, he vowed to return it safely but he was unable to keep his promise. It was torched and riddled with bullets on a night with Zach and his fellow workers barely escaped with their lives.
Amanda never saw Zach again but because of his commitment to a greater good, she was inspired to reach for something beyond herself. She overcame her reluctance to grab life with both hands and became a successful businesswoman.. Later after retirement, she helped found a homeless shelter and food bank. She almost forgot that Zach had been her silent mentor.
After her mother died, she came across a stack of letters Zach wrote to her during the Spring of 1965. She decided she had to find him if he were still alive and thank him for giving meaning to her life. She starts her search on the Internet but ultimately has to hit the road to find him. She travels to all the places he was last known to be: the college where he taught, the editor on his documentary and his book agent. Finally she finds him at his daughter’s house, a shadow of the man she remembered. Seeing him broken and dying, she helps him regain a sense of pride in his contributions to the world, to civil rights and to her. She talks him into writing another book and going on the lecture tour to talk about the world as it was, as it is and as he thinks it should be.