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Hubby Dear teases me about my television viewing. He finds my choices both amusing and confusing. In a way, so do I. Upon reflection, however, there does seem to be a method to all my madness. There are reasons for my options.
Some days I use the mindlessness of many programs as a tranquilizer to calm me as I struggle with the chaos of daily living, the sharpness of the challenge to be good and do good in the midst of all that appears to be “not-so-good,” if not downright evil. My selection is comparatively non-addictive, not immeasurably expensive, and it works — at least for the short term.
When I ponder my action ... perhaps my inaction ... I begin to realize there is more to this process than I first imagined. There is even more to it than I originally desired. I need to ask questions to make my decision more meaningful. I need to discover what I am learning, or not, from this procedure.
Once I began this journey inward, I couldn’t stop. Eagerness for revelation overtook me. I was Alice and I had begun my journey into wonderland. As the King very gravely said to Alice, I hear God saying to me, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: Then stop.”
At the beginning, I wanted mind-numbing to happen, so I watched “Seinfeld” with its whole gang of friends who seemed always to be going nowhere while they thought they were advancing somewhere. I remember Hubby Dear asking me what it was all about. When I told him it was about nothing and nobody in particular, he shook his head in disbelief that I could spend time being absorbed with nothing. He saw and heard me laughing ... at nothing! … and couldn’t understand why I was caught up in it. What was so amusing about a world filled with people who are spiraling in an endless cycle of triviality?
That was my starting point. Nothing made sense when all was senseless. It was not long before I needed to go on. Obviously, like Alice, I had not yet come to the end. My next choice was to spend time with Raymond and learn that everybody loves him. Nobody loves his brother Robert, or so he thinks. Few admire his mother Marie. Many relate to his father Frank who lives his name with unutterable “frankness” and constant demands. Others are compassionate with his wife Debra. Truth be told, it’s all about each of them, viewed both positively and negatively.
This time my laughter was more introspective. What if I were a member of the Barone family? What if I were immersed in a saga where “It never stops for successful sports writer Ray Barone, whose oddball family life consists of a fed-up wife, overbearing parents, and an older brother with lifelong jealousy?”Do I not scream for pie, the pie of life I want? Do I not feel “put upon” like Debra? Am I not envious of others or sweetly self-satisfied or overbearing with my own expectations? Am I not madly human?
Back to Alice ... and my own wonderland. I listen to the conversation between Alice and the Cat and know how poignantly accurate it is:
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
Discovering, receiving the revelation that all of us suffer from the disease of egoism, whether it’s all about me or nothing’s about me, is a major life lesson. It’s both an obstacle and a turning point in life’s journey. I continue to learn it — amazingly when watching television programs.
Lately, it is “The Waltons” who have captured my mind and heart. It is not that I want to return to the 1930s, nor do I intend to take residence in the mountains. The Waltons impel me to rethink family and all that family implies. Family is messily generative. Family means compromise and compassion. It demands forgiveness and forgetfulness, sorrow and rejoicing, laughter and love. Family is most definitely learned in the process of finding that life is not about me. Life is about us.
Living high above the plain, both atop and in the shadow of a mountain of joy and grief, pain and pleasure, like the Waltons, we learn how to live with less and enjoy it more. We learn it through suffering not stoicism. We learn it by expressing our anguish and anger. We learn it by entering the pain of having less than we want and by experiencing the joy of sharing the little we have with those we meet. We learn it by truly living with each other, by allowing others to confront and challenge us, to whittle away at our egoism and help us grow in wisdom and grace, as well as age.
Television programs can truly be reality shows, demonstrations of God’s real presence in our everydayness. Television programs can be instruments of divine intervention in our lives, reminding us that God is God by showing us our human foibles and getting us to laugh at them, to laugh at ourselves, and to love as God loves: everyone, everywhere, in every way.
Whether we know God or not, God is God. There is no other. We find God and find ourselves. We find ourselves and find God — in apparent nonsense, in dysfunctional families, on mountaintops and in valleys.
Perhaps this doesn’t make sense to you at all. Perhaps it seems a bit far-fetched or difficult to grasp. That’s OK. I only ask that the ideas be given some thought. I only suggest that you awaken the deeper sense of divinity residing in the core of your being. Give it a chance. Give yourself a chance to find God in the reality of television programs. As Alice in her wonderland would say, “at any rate, there’s no harm trying.”
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of “Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives,” lead chaplain at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at email@example.com