Saturday, June 11, 2011

"That Family"

I lived away from home through college, and in my fourth year I roomed with 2 sisters after a crazy year in the Nanaimo party house on 637 6th Street. Living with girls was definitely different. For example, every Monday night my girl roomates would invite a whole slough of other girls over to watch Party of Five (Marla, Michelle, Melissa, was it Mondays?). It was the most depressing show I ever tried watching (imagine Steel Magnolias meets Days of Our Lives every week) and it didn't take long for me to get in the habit of going to one of the guys' to play video games ... or sometimes even to the library to study. Point is: when Party of Five was on, I had to get out.

I hated Party of Five, and so did most of the guys I knew (with a few guys being exceptions, and they always justified their viewership by explaining how hot Neve Campbell and Jennifer Love Hewett were). Anyway, from what I remember, none of the characters had parents (they all died or something), one of them was an alcoholic, all of the relationships were dramatically on-again/off-again, people got cancer, boyfriends were cheating on girlfriends, everyone was struggling and grieving, and whenever I got home early, it was always to an apartment full of crying college girls talking about how they couldn't believe this and that happened and so and so said that. Ugh!

I took a lot of pleasure in teasing the girls about the show, always saying how the "Pof" writers were probably pressured to layer tragedy over tragedy in order to keep their "tragedy-junky" viewers satisfied, which would in turn satisfy the network execs who demanded solid ratings for prime-time. I don't know what happened to the show after '98, but I'm certain either (a) the tragedies became too unbelievable to continue watching, or (b) viewers became too exhausted by the relentless tragedies, or (c) a combination of both.

I mention this because ... well ... 13 years later, it kind a feels like our life with Gabrielle is a like being stuck in a season of Party of Five. I don't mean this cynically, simply ironically. Amy and I post Facebook updates and most of the replies are from women, with a few guys commenting as well (yeah, yeah, yeah, Amy's pretty cute). Many tears are shed because Gabrielle's story does pull at one's heart-strings.  And when we showed up at the hospital less than two weeks after Gabrielle's grand departure, the Facebook "Likes" to our status updates ramped up in the same way Pof ratings ramped up whenever Bailey went on a drinking bender and cheated on Sarah, or when Charlie told Kirsten about his disease.

(and oh yes, I should also mention that I also have a semi-permanent five o'clock shadow like Charlie)

So what am I saying?

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm realizing families who endure great adversities like ours sometimes are the last to realize that they're "that family." You know, the family that gets talked about at soccer games and get-togethers (and then when they show up it gets really quiet).  I think it takes a while to realize that you're "that family," largely because you don't want to be "that family," and also because when you're "in it," the points of reference aren't as contrasting as they are for people living normal lives.

But to anyone reading this who's enduring something equally difficult, I think it's okay to be "that family." The hurt, pain, and struggle makes you stronger. And there are some wonderful upsides. Random people will randomly tell you how much they care about you. People will want to help you in ways you didn't know you needed help. People will draw strength from your strength, and that will make you stronger in ways you didn't know you could be.  And the insights you'll acquire about the meaning and importance of life are ones you never would have acquired otherwise, providing you with amazing new perspectives on our purpose here.

They say adversity builds character, and I really believe that. And what I think is just awesome is that "character" comes from the Ancient Greek word "kharakter," that meant "symbol or imprint on soul."

So while no one wants to be "that family" who gets talked about like a Party of Five episode, I guess a different way to look at it is that you have the honourable privilege of imprinting on people's souls, and growing in amazing ways you never would have before.