I am a child of the 1970s. My formative years, my childhood, were the ’70s. I wore bellbottoms, and I had long feathered hair, aka the Farrah cut. I listened to disco music and loved it. I drank from the garden hose. I feel nostalgic when I think about the carefree days of the summers of my youth, riding my bike around the neighborhood with my friends, putting up a tent in the backyard as the home base for the day, and staying out until the streetlights came on. We ate popsicles and watermelon outside when it was too hot because no one had air conditioning in their homes—and we weren’t even allowed in the house unless it was raining. We didn’t watch television in the summer; there were only reruns anyway and cable wasn’t something normal people had. Plus, we didn’t even know what a video game was because they had barely been invented, at least not for the home. The days were real, and they were mine to do with as I pleased—within reason, of course, because I was still a kid.
Now I’m a grownup, for more than 30 years. And like most grownups, I have responsibilities that keep me occupied, so I don’t have much time for television now either. I’m a parent, and my kids and other obligations keep me busy. But we do have cable and a DVR, so I pick and choose a few shows to watch regularly. One of my new favorites, and just about everyone else on the planet’s favorite, is “This Is Us.” I was hesitant to start watching when it first started because when would I possibly find the time? My husband watched the first episode and convinced me to watch it with him. I’m happy he did: I can honestly say that the show has given me a fresh perspective on my life and my relationship with him and my kids.
The characters and the storylines, in real time, seem bigger than life. I mean really, whose family has a Famous Actor (Kevin), a Wall Street Wonder (Randall), and a Tormented Depressed Stereotype (Kate). These are overexaggerated characters, or so I thought at first, and I didn’t like them in the first episode. The only characters I did like were Jack and Rebecca. Throughout the whole first episode, they were the only ones I cared about the only ones who seemed real. And then I found out the truth: They were the past.
The more I think about it (and I probably think about stuff like this way too much), isn’t the way the show portrays the present day similar to how we have all come to portray our lives to the world? We are all bigger than life. We are all exaggerated characters who post perfection on social media. We all take the most amazing vacations, have the most beautiful homes, and have the most perfect kids doing the most amazing things. I’m guilty of it as much as you are. We want the world to think we haven’t any troubles, sleepless nights wondering if we made the right decision, and chronic illnesses from stress. We don’t have a care in the world. We make the best decisions all the time, and we have all the money we could ever ask for. That’s not reality though, is it? Sometimes we cry great big tears, trying to breathe as we rock ourselves back and forth repeating, “I’m OK, I’m OK,” over and over until we actually are OK. That’s reality.
We too quickly jump to conclusions about people, and once we have decided what kind of person they are, it is extremely difficult to change our minds. We need to choose to understand and get to know them better. Take Randall’s biological father, William, for instance. We all had ideas about the person he was, from the perspective of others, but it wasn’t until the Memphis episode that we found out who he really was and how he struggled with choices throughout his life. But in the end, he had joy and it was the joy that carried him through to his last days. The show does a superb job of showing us that life isn’t always what it appears to be.
It’s the flashbacks on the show, the historical context of these characters, that keeps us coming back and wanting more and makes us to sob every week. It is our desire to know the backstory, the reality, that keeps us interested. So let me ask you this: How much do you know about your history? Not yours, because you lived it, but your parents’ and your grandparents’. Do you really know them? We see bits and pieces of who they were and make conclusions and judgments about who they are based on what we see. But most of the time we don’t know about the choices that they made or why they made them, or how those choices brought them to this place that they are now. We’ve all made tough choices, some with regret, but finding the good out of these choices and remembering to lead with love makes us stronger in our relationships. I listened this week to a “This American Life” episode and can’t get something out of my head that was said in the episode, “Chongxi.” It is an old Chinese belief that you can wash away a misfortune with joy.
Misfortune is inevitable. Life is hard. It’s full of ups and downs and mistakes and joy. If you get to experience those things with the people you love—your spouse or partner, your kids or your parents, even you friends—life can be good. My husband and I came up with a family mantra a few years ago as we were going through some tough decisions: “Faith, hard work, and the joy of every day.” It’s been awhile since I’ve repeated that mantra on a regular basis, but today I am starting again.
I have faith that the choices I make come from love. I will work hard to love and support my family. I will find joy in every day, because no one knows how many more days we have.