By: Staci Stallings
Some things I can explain. Many things I cannot.
One of those things is timing. Why something comes into your life at a particular moment. Why sometimes it comes back at a particular moment, and sometimes it’s gone forever. Why some of those things that pass into forever stay in your heart and others that you think you will remember fade after a time.
I can’t explain any of that. But I know it all to be true.
In my books I write a lot about life–about characters who are trying to make sense of their lives, who are trying to live their lives as best as they can. My characters are good people who are going through some crummy things. I don’t know why they have to go through them, but I have learned that they do.
Once, I tried to stop writing a book (most of the time I have the opposite problem) because I didn’t want the characters to have to go through what I knew was coming. I hated that–putting them through the pain and anger and hurt. I didn’t want them to have to go through it. It hurt me to watch them go through it, and yet I knew… I knew it was how they would grow into the person they were supposed to be. It was the only way for them to get to real peace.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to grow up. It’s not just that our cells divide and we get bigger, older, taller. It’s far more than that. Growing up is about confronting the really hard truths of this life, facing them, deciding what you are going to do with them–how you are going to deal with them, or not deal with them.
Truth is, a lot of times I don’t want to grow up. Every time I’m faced with a “growing up” moment, I want to flee, to run far, far away to a galaxy maybe no one has ever even heard of before. I’m 41, and I honestly don’t think I’m ready to be an adult yet.
In fact, I read the other day that it is because we lost Paradise and some small part of us remembers what it was to be in Paradise with God that we KNOW this is not how it’s supposed to be. But we have no idea how to get back there. And even if we do for moments at a time, it doesn’t last. The next crisis or trial comes along, and we’re left saying to ourselves and each other once again, “This is not how it’s supposed to be.”
I remember after my brother-in-law’s death my husband saying to me, “A mother should not lose a son. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.” But of course by that time I had lost my own brother under very similar circumstances, and I said, “Maybe not, but it happens.”
And when it happens, we are left with the anger and the hurt that God has not played fair with us. Moreover, in this go-go society, we have no idea where to go with those feelings. Talking about such things is frightening. To even acknowledge the feeling is frightening. And so we don’t. We bury ourselves in “what’s for dinner” and “what time is soccer practice”?
If we say something to someone, they don’t know what to say, and we don’t know what to say… so we all say nothing as if pretending it isn’t real will make it not be so.
I’ve been watching old “Family Ties” episodes through the magic of DVD, and although there were many I had forgotten, there were a few episodes that I remember very well even though it’s been more than 20 years since I had seen them.
One of those episodes was about Alex, the often-obnoxious older brother played by Michael J. Fox. When the show was originally on, I was about 18… old enough to understand but young enough to have no clue.
At that time, Alex and I were a lot alike. We were both driven by forces inside us that we didn’t even understand–forces that said we were supposed to be the best, the brightest, to know all the answers, and have life all figured out. Little did he or I or even Michael know what lay in store.
How could I know that only 3 years later I would lose one of my best friends to cancer? How could I know how I would watch her–going through chemo for a brain tumor that would surely take her life all the while going to college because she’d always wanted to?
How could I know then all the rotten hands life would deal out to me? The early birth of my daughter and how hard that was going to be? The loss of a brother and then a brother-in-law?
I couldn’t. Just as Michael J. Fox could not have imagined being stricken with Parkinson’s disease. We couldn’t have known. We were just kids, and the worst thing that had ever happened to us was getting a B on a test.
There’s another episode one I had forgotten most of. In it Alex’s sister, Mallory, is stressed about college and life, so she decides impulsively to marry her sweetheart, Nick. It is perfectly clear that neither of them are ready for what real marriage is like. They are both going on the wine-roses-and-rainbows version that sounds so good and yet proves to be so very wrong. In the end they decide not to get married after all.
Back home, Mallory and her mom have a very brief talk. Her mom says something like, “I wish I could tell you that there are never going to be any rough patches in life, but I can’t. They are going to come. But when they do, I want you to know that we’ll work through them together.”
What a profound moment for me now. I probably didn’t even get it back then. I didn’t know how wide the writers were opening their hearts for me to see, but I see it now.
That profound insight is on full display in the phenomenal two-part episode “My Name is Alex” in which Alex’s friend dies in a car accident. Alex was supposed to go to help his friend, but he chose not to because he was too busy to help his friend. Now his friend is dead, and Alex is left to absorb, to hurt, and to work through the tremendous grief.
Watching that episode just now pulled out things I don’t even know if I’ve let myself realize were there. As he voices how scared he is in this world that can change in a heartbeat into something truly unrecognizable to you. As he talks about how to go on from here, what it all means–or doesn’t. Watching it, I recognized many of those feelings–feelings of “what’s the point,” feelings of “I should have,” feelings of “why am I even here” and “how can he not be here”?
I truly believe that art–whether it be music or painting or acting or writing–can be the deepest expression of our existence on this planet. Some of that is giving what is inside the artist a voice. Some of it is giving the observer, the reader, the hearer the permission to feel what’s inside them.
There is a part in the episode when Alex is being questioned about whether he believes in God, and he talks about how he thinks God is sometimes a dolphin, swimming in the ocean, and sometimes God is at the trader on the stock market trading floor. I thought to myself when he said it, “God truly is each one of us… inside of us… experiencing life in us and through us. He is not out there. He is in here.”
I write about life, maybe in the hopes that you, the reader will see it and embrace it for all it is here to teach us. I hope one day to write something that touches me the way Micheal and the Family Ties writers touched me. It was truly a gift.