This Is Us–Further Reflections
By NANCY PATRICK
In February 2020 Spirit of Abilene ran an article I wrote entitled “Like a Box of Chocolates.” The title alludes to the movie “Forest Gump,” but the piece focuses on the randomness and serendipity of life. In the article I referred to a television series entitled “This Is Us” on CBS. That series is now in its last season as it reveals answers to all the earlier allusions.
The uniqueness of “This Is Us” involves a narrative structure that reveals glimpses of all the characters’ lives from birth to death in a non-linear style throughout the entire series. When I discovered one of the story’s biggest tragedies early in the season, I felt devastated because I did not want to lose that character.
Nonetheless, the show’s addictive quality brings its fans back season after season because of all the emotional, psychological, spiritual, and social implications within the complicated plot.
As the three Pearson triplets enter the family and achieve middle age by the end of the series, I have felt at times like their parents, their peers, their counselors, and their guardians. I have loved them in spite of some of their foolish mistakes.
I remember a time in my own life when I wished to know my own future. I believed that if I knew the future, I would make wise decisions and create a happy life. What a naïve young woman I was!
Do you remember the Thornton Wilder play “Our Town”? In the play, Emily Gibbs, a young wife and mother dies in childbirth, but her soul has the opportunity to visit one “insignificant” day in her past.
Only at life’s end do we humans realize the significance of the insignificant. What would it mean to watch my mother cook our family’s daily breakfast, to take notes in an 8 a.m. American literature class, to eavesdrop on my son as he plays spy games with his cousins, to look at my husband the way I did on November 23, 1968?
As Emily watches her mother work in the kitchen that morning, raw emotion overcomes her as she realizes the brevity and preciousness of life.
Life in “Our Town” and life in “This Is Us” reveals how we squander the times we have with those we love. We fail to understand the wonder of our parents in their own youths. A 30 or 40-year-old seems old to a child or teenager.
Not until we become parents ourselves do we realize the many times our young parents faced the stresses of financial problems, employment concerns, health issues, and fears for our futures. That secret from God to his children protects us from knowing too much too soon.
Parents usually try to protect their children from painful truths about their mistakes and regrets. They try to maintain a façade of familial unity even if they deal with many obstacles in their marriages. These parents weigh options of divorce, counseling, reconciliation, and forgiveness.
Each choice involves time, patience, emotional upheaval, regret, disappointment, and grief. Some wounds heal with nary a scar while others heal but bear a deep and permanent scar. Unfortunately, some wounds cannot heal; thus, some reconciliations never occur.
Every difficult situation in marriage and family leads to one of life’s hardest truths: compromise sustains relationships. No one wants to compromise because it involves surrender and defeat. Who will surrender and what will they sacrifice?
A few weeks ago, I mentioned a list of questions I want to write about in some future articles. One of those questions relates to the instability of so many family relationships in modern society. I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness when I see so many families fall apart in the face of difficulties.
As I watch the unraveling of some relationships and the formation of new relationships within the Pearson family in “This Is Us”, my heart breaks as I relive parts of the childhoods, youths, and daily lives of these people. I want to shake them when they make selfish choices and insist that they put the good of their families before their personal ambitions.
Sadly, I have come to realize that with all the “progress” society has made regarding gender, age, inclusiveness, and self-actualization, family life in America as Jack and Rebecca Pearson knew it exists no longer.
Jack and Rebecca would have been baby boomers, probably the last generation to understand the determination required to sustain a life-long marriage. If both spouses in a marriage insist on pursuing their individual ambitions, they may not succeed in maintaining the nuclear family that preceded WW II.
As I have watched the Pearson family’s life from start to finish, I know that if I had known in 1968 what I know now, I would have cringed in a corner and dried up. I could not have traveled my life’s road if I had seen it ahead of me.
From the outside looking in, my life might resemble a fairy tale to others. We have all known people that we label as “Barbie and Ken” or “the beautiful people.” We must not let outward appearances mislead us about the lives of those around us.
Every family has its own complexion. Life at its best is hard. We all discovered during the height of the Covid pandemic that no one is immune to tragedy.
No one gets to cut in line. Some of us have more money than others while some have better health than others—the truth is that we are connected with both our hardships and our blessings.
I began this article several weeks ago as I pondered one of the questions on my list: How does a relationship between two people who once loved each other enough to marry and have children devolve to a point of vile behavior that seeks to divide their children’s love for the maternal and paternal families?
I don’t suppose I have found the answer to that question even after years of studying relationships and individual psychology. I am thankful that my husband Mike and I learned the art of compromise many years ago. The key to that in our family was that we both valued our little trio of Patricks over any personal ambitions we might have had.
We spent many stressful and angry days and nights as these diplomatic compromises worked out. Life is like a box of chocolates—you never know what is next. It is also like a maze with dead ends and exits. It can be difficult, bitter, and fractious, but it can also be simple, sweet, and loving.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing