I watched two shows this year that affected me deeply. The first, and try not to roll your eyes, was called “The Haunting of Hill House.” It was pretty brave of me because I grew up very religious, and even though I’m an Athiest now, part of me still believes in the Devil. Anyway, the series wasn’t what I expected and I have found myself thinking about it fairly often throughout the year. The part that comes to mind now is an idea regarding what it means to be a parent. In the series, the mother is tortured by the notion that her children will grow to endure pain — and it would be the most motherly thing she could do to protect them by killing them before they suffer. I was struck by this, recognizing the need to protect my kids is perhaps the most basic desire that I have. It is profoundly heartbreaking to see your children grow beyond the magic of kisses and snuggles — and be truly unable to help. Anyone who has a child can relate. Are you a co-parent, raising your child/children in a divorced family? Does your child suffer from bullying? A learning disability? An illness? There is a list a mile long of all the injury that people suffer — in childhood and beyond. And the guilt of being a parent runs deep. I read somewhere about parenting being a deeply selfish act — because it brings a child into a chaotic, messed-up world. Sometimes I watch the news, then look at my boys, my daughter, and am filled with fear. So, yeah. There’s guilt.
At the end of the show, the husband says to his wife that the job of a parent is not to save children from the pain of living but to bear witness to it, to be there. That stuck with me — bearing witness. I have watched my daughter endure chronic pain, wrestle with OCD, and despair her life. I have sat in hospital rooms unable to console her — I’ve felt a million miles away yet tethered to her with chains that weigh us both down. But in those moments, I was a witness. I was reading her story without skipping over the bad parts. It seems important to me now — to realize that it’s okay to be powerless sometimes. It is something I am working on, to let my love and intention be enough. I have to let go of the need to demand evidence for my goodwill — like it doesn’t mean anything without results. Acknowledging a person when they are at their weakest and accepting the situation without trying to change it requires the will to lay aside one's own desire to shed guilt through sheer exertion. God knows we will all fail in our attempts to mitigate when to protect and when to let go. But I hope we will all find the courage to accept the stories of our loved ones without trying to manipulate the endings, no matter the temptation.
The second show I watched that had a profound effect on me was called “Fleabag.” It’s on Amazon Prime and I highly recommend it. Without spoiling it, what struck me about this series was that the hardest form of forgiveness is self-forgiveness. How do we come back from colossal screw-ups? What if we have really hurt people who have trusted us? What if we make stupid choices, or take too long to figure things out? There is this scene in the show where the character is at a confessional and she is crying and telling the priest that all she wants is for someone to tell her what to do. Life is so weighty sometimes. It is like a constant ache that is impossible to diagnose with any exactness. It just sits under the skin like an itch without relief. That is pretty bleak. But that is how it feels some days. And especially when you are in desperate need of forgiveness but the wrong can’t be righted.
Then what? You have to find a way to keep going and (in the words of Frozen 2) do the next right thing. Though I’m not religious anymore, I find it irritating when people say religion is useless, or harmful. It can be harmful, yes. But it can also be wonderful. I think the most powerful thing religion offers is the promise of redemption. If you can’t right a wrong, or if you can’t get forgiveness from someone you’ve hurt, then religion offers a path to a clean slate minus the tangible evidence that you are worthy. I miss that sometimes. But I have found that love offers the same redemption. Allowing myself to see myself through the eyes of people who love me is powerful. Giving myself permission to do my best in the day I have without weighting my worth with yesterday's mistakes, is powerful. Redemption doesn’t always mean that everything gets set right. Sometimes it just means that you no longer let your mistakes define you — if for no other reason than there are people around who need you to be better than your worst mistake.
This is a new year. Last year was hard and I expect this one will be as well. But even so, I can say there was joy. There was love and laughter. I made new friends and I did my best on most days. Going into the new year, I want to remember that I cannot create a perfect story, nor can I control anyone else’s ending. Instead, I hope to have the strength to bear witness to pain and heartache and illness. And, at the end of it all, be merciful and kind to myself because I’m a person. And people are messy.