I turned on the television and started flipping through the channels the other day and thought to myself, “WOW…there is a LOT of crap on TV these days!” Sometimes I think I ought to just get rid of my television all together. But when chronic pain often confines you to bed, that turns out to not be such a great idea. Sure – too much TV can be a waste of time. But in moderation it can also be entertaining and informative and can often make us think and feel. Much like books, good television – fiction or not, has the potential to make us reflect on our own lives; learn about others; remind us of where we’ve been; inspire new pursuits; let go of hurt that belongs in the past or, my personal favorite – laugh until our sides hurt!
Outside of my love of science and history programs, I find that I am often drawn to shows with characters who are real and story-lines that might be yours or mine. I am a Friends addict. I can pretty much recite every episode. As a kid, I was hooked on The Brady Bunch and The Cosby Show and Punky Brewster. This past year I started watching Parenthood. It is such a great reminder that things are not always what they seem; that nothing lasts forever and that in life, there simply are no guarantees.
If you’ve never watched it, it is a show about the Braverman family – the parents (Zeek and Millie), their four children (Adam, Sarah, Julia and Crosby) and each of their families. The two Braverman kids who seem to have it all together, Adam and Julia, wind up facing unimaginable adversity from cancer to infertility and more. Sarah and Crosby, however, whose accomplishments include marrying a deadbeat, addict musician, meeting a 5-year old son from a one night stand while living on a boat and having mom do laundry at the age of 30, a string of jobs ranging from play-write, bar-tender and pet photographer….they somehow manage to figure it out and turn all of these lemons into the best darn lemonade on the block.
What makes shows like this one great is that they are, above all else, relatable. We can see pieces of ourselves in each of the characters. We find comfort when their failures look like our own and at the same time, are reminded that nothing lasts forever. Pain subsides. And success can be fleeting. What matters most isn’t what we have, but what we choose to do and who we share our moments with.
On the reality side of television, just before the new year I watched an ABC special entitled The Year 2013. It was a look back at the 2013 news headlines, from the Boston Marathon bombing to the death of Nelson Mandela. I found myself in awe, inspired, saddened….by so many images and stories of people suffering unimaginable devastation, loss, injury/trauma/illness, catastrophe….and rising above it all. It was humbling. Inspiring. Guilt-laden and shut-me-up astounding. It was a shocking reminder of how lucky most of us are. How lucky I am. There are so many lessons surrounding us at every turn if we can get outside of our own tiny atmosphere and set our sights beyond the tip of our own noses.
At the time I watched the special, I was living in a tiny, one room cinder block house with windows that were not weather-tight, and therefore had plastic covering them all. It was in a bad neighborhood and I rarely went outside. I often referred to it as my prison. Oh boo-hoo me, right? Watching this TV program was such a wake-up call. I had been wallowing for way too long. I needed to look beyond that walls that did not, as I often perceive them to…imprison me, but DID, in fact, shelter me. Kept me warm (or cool, as the case may be mid-summer in Florida!) and dry and comfortable. Was it ideal? No, of course not. Circumstances like these often make it hard to see beyond the physical pain I live with. But a small bit of attention paid to the rest of the world makes it easier to see that while yes, my pain is real, things, as my mother often reminds me, could always be worse. What I do or think or feel today will not be the best or worst of what I have thus far experienced, or of what is to come.
So yes, too much TV can definitely rot your brain. But every now and then, the fictional characters or real life heroes help to put life, love, loss and the resilience of the human spirit into perspective. With that in mind – here’s to all the characters – made up and self-made, who inspire us to live life better!