I’ll Tell You What I Want

I love The West Wing. I’d gladly name a daughter Ainsley if I could find a man who would let me. (Ainsley means “Anne’s lea,” which is a great reference for this St. Anne loving lady. Ainsley Claire, tell me that isn’t a lovely name. And it lets me name a daughter after St. Anne and St. Clare; it’s a win.) I love the character development and the camaraderie between the show’s characters. One of my favorite things about the show is the relationship between Josh Lyman and Donna Moss.

Josh knows that Donna is almost always the most competent woman person in the room. (Except when Margaret or Abbey are in the room; those women get it done.) He knows her strengths and her weaknesses, and he knows how to use them-for better or worse. He doesn’t always take her seriously, but he always respects and values her opinions when it matters. When the chips are down, Josh is there for Donna. He’s not a perpetual white knight or a saint in a stained glass window. He makes fun of every guy she even considers dating. He teases her about all sorts of things. He mocks the fact that she’s from Wisconsin. When he’s angry with her, he makes sure that she knows it, and he is not fair to her or kind. Basically, he’s a normal angry person.

There is a point in the show where Josh feels that Donna has broken his trust. Now, he made some mistakes that led to this situation, but angry people are seldom reasonable. He chooses to overlook how he may have contributed to the situation. However, he does look at how much he misses Donna. He is honest about how valuable she was to him. But he’s hurt, and he feels betrayed. So he pushes her away. That’s not ideal or desirable, but it is realistic.

Josh doesn’t always understand his assistant/friend/life support, and I think that’s part of the beauty of the relationship. Donna is a little bit crazy, and that’s why I both like her and relate to her.  Josh doesn’t expect to understand Donna all the time-or even much of the time, and after a certain point, she doesn’t expect that of him either. That’s real life, after all. Your partner doesn’t always understand you, and they’re likely to tease you once they know you well.

Similarly, Donna understands Josh better than he understands himself. (To be fair, I’m not really sure that he understands himself at all. Let’s look at how long it took him to realize that he was interested in Donna if we need evidence.) She knows what he needs and how to help him succeed. She continues trying to help him even when he rejects her help. And if he pushes her away, she finds other ways or other people to help him in her stead.

There’s something I find really appealing about this relationship. (And it’s not just the Vaseline-screen romance of a fictional story.) I love the give and take, the banter of this relationship. These are two flawed human beings who are trying their best to do the right thing with their lives. In the context of the various stages of their relationship, that means that they’re trying to do what is best for one another as much as possible.

It doesn’t always work out, and at times, they don’t treat each other in the best way. But for the most part, they respect one another, and they want what’s best for the other. Yes, Josh can be selfish. Donna can be petty when she’s irked. They’re human; the show makes that remarkably clear to the viewer. But it’s a realistic relationship.

When I look at the fictional relationships I enjoy from modern television, I see realistic relationships. Josh and Donna are flawed humans who try to do their best. They’re fun. They’re witty. They’re real. And I love it.

But more than that, I want it. I want that relationship.

Except…I really want to be Donna with Josh’s job. I really do. But that’s a different post.

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A Man Falls into a Hole: A Meditation on Grace

The West Wing, one of my favorite shows, never shied away from the big issues in life. War, death, capital punishment, alcoholism, disease…they took on pretty much everything. What has always struck me about the show is not merely that they chose to face these issues head on but that they did so with honesty and compassion. In the Christmas episode of the second season, they took on (among other things) mental health and struggling through difficult seasons in life.

Josh Lyman, the Deputy Chief of Staff, is struggling with PTSD after being shot at the end of the first season. While Josh is doing well overall at this point, his boss and his secretary both notice that he’s been struggling in the recent days. They arrange for Josh to see his therapist, and after Josh meets with his therapist, he has a conversation with Leo McGarry. This conversation will never stop being one of my favorite pieces of dialogue on the show, and a recent encounter with the quotation has led me to a meditation on grace and on friendship.

This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey you, can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

I’ve been going through some rough things lately. It hasn’t been easy, and I’m not always sure how I get to the end of the day. I know that there is prayer involved; sometimes that prayer is just “Jesus, help me.” There are days when the only way that I make it through the day is the knowledge that there is someone in my corner.

For me, Leo’s quotation is the definition of love and of friendship. Prayer is infinitely valuable. Medicine is good. But sometimes what you really need is for someone to meet you where you are and try to help you climb out of the pit. Sometimes what you really need is someone who has been in the pit before and knows how to get out. You need that person to climb down into the pit and help you get out.

Recently, I ran into someone who I hadn’t talked to in a while. She asked me how I was doing and added something like “It seems like you’ve been having a rough time lately.” I can’t tell you what it meant to not have to just say, “Oh, yeah, I’m fine.” I didn’t have to say that everything was going well for me. I was able to be honest and say that things aren’t perfect right now. I don’t know if that woman will ever know what it meant to me to be able to say that yes, my life is hard, really hard right now. It was a massive gift to me, and it was something that I desperately needed. Now, she didn’t help me climb all the way out of the pit, but she did come to the pit and acknowledge it for what it is. That seemingly small act helped me up a little. For me, it was a moment of grace.

Grace can come into our lives like this. It doesn’t always come in big ways or obvious miracles. Sometimes it’s just someone acknowledging our pain. It isn’t always a complete removal from the pit. Sometimes it’s just someone coming into the pit and spending some time with me or seeing that I need some sort of help and getting it for me without me asking. That’s the really amazing thing that Donna and Leo did for Josh; they saw his needs and met them without him verbally asking for help. (Punching the window was his way of crying for help.)

Honestly, that’s the thing that I need the most when I’m struggling. I need someone to do for me what Leo and Donna did for Josh; I need them to see my needs and help me before I ask. But it’s not easy to be Leo and Donna; oftentimes, people will hide hurt or difficulty from even their closest friends. I know that I’ve tried to do that before. I’ve also tried to be Leo and Donna; that’s not easy. You need grace. You need strength. You may need a miracle. And the only advice that I can give on the subject is to ask for grace to help you in whatever role you are playing.

What am I trying to say? You need grace if you’re the man in the pit. You need grace if you’re the friend. When you’re dealing with the pit, you need grace to get out, and you need to have a friend around who will acknowledge the pit and ask for the grace to help you out.

The Ten Best Things that Netflix has Brought into My Life

If you know me well, you know that I love movies. I’m fond of TV at times, but I don’t tend to watch much current TV. I watch Castle. I watch Downton Abbey when it’s in season. And I watch The Mindy Project. I used to watch 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother when they were on. But by and large…yeah, I’m more of a movie girl.

However, I’m a big fan of Netflix because it provides me with background noise while I’m grading or doing schoolwork or knitting. I’ve had a Netflix account on and off since the spring of 2010, and it’s brought many good movies into my life. So I thought I’d compile a list of what I like and recommend to others.

  1. Old movies: I was interested in old movies long before I ever heard of Netflix. I love Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, and Netflix lets me see more of their movies than I can borrow from the library at any given time. The selection isn’t always consistent, but there are always a few new selections for my amusement and edification.

9. Psych: I’m not a huge fan of the later seasons, but I love this show. As a college student without cable, Netflix was the only way that I could watch Shawn Spencer torment Ghee Buttersnaps or whatever he had chosen to call Gus that week. And Pierre Despereaux is only an added bonus. Basically, it’s a hilarious buddy cop comedy, and I love it.

  1. Possession: The first time that I saw this movie, I was entranced. From the story line to the costumes to the acting…it was all amazing. I went on to read the book, and I loved it as well. It’s a brilliant, compelling story, and it was deeply moving to me both on the page and on the screen.

  1. Parks and Recreation: Everyone said that I’d love it, but I never got into it while it was on the air. A few weeks after it went off the air, I started watching it. And oh my lord do I ever love it! It’s quirky and ridiculous and charmingly flawed. Also, I like bacon. Please give me all of the bacon.

  1. The Grand Seduction: I’ve learned from my relationship with Netflix that I like quirky movies about people who feel real and who do things that have logical motivations that I can relate to. This movie about a small fishing village in Newfoundland that is struggling to adapt to the 21st century struck a chord with me. The characters felt real, and while their lives weren’t easy, I liked them and felt they were the sort of people I’d like to know.

  1. House of Cards: It’s not as good as The West Wing, but it fills a whole that TWW left in my life. I do love me some fictional political intrigue. I can’t watch it before bed because it gets me too amped up emotionally, and I can’t sleep. But while I don’t always like the characters, I want to know what’s going to happen to them and how it’s going to happen.
  1. Doctor Who: I’m a self-professed nerd, and I wouldn’t be half as happy as I am without Doctor Who. It’s smart (usually) and funny and all-around good fun. (If you’re wondering, David Tennant is my doctor.)

  1. Not Another Happy Ending: This movie was made for me. It’s smart and funny and entertaining. It’s a little dark, and it’s better if you don’t overthink it. It tells the story of an author and her complicated relationship with her publisher. It also sorts through the complexities of her (moderately dysfunctional) relationship with her father. Overall, it can be frustrating at times, but the end is so worth the watch.

  1. The West Wing: I started watching this show in September and finished it in January. It’s intelligent. It’s entertaining. It’s witty. It’s the best thing that I’ve ever seen. I love the dialogue and the character development. Overall, the show makes me wish for better things for my country. I wish that our country were led by the politicians on this show and not our current leaders-either side of the aisle. (Also, picking a video clip to accompany this was one of the hardest things that I’ve done today. I chose two and an image with one of my favorite quotes because y’all need to love and appreciate them.)

  1. The Decoy Bride: This might be my favorite movie. I relate to Katie so much. I jokingly call my church the Isle of Hegg because the two are not that dissimilar. The movie speaks to me. I wish I could go “man-vegan.” And I swear I am a “whole lot hotter than I look.” Now I just need my own personal David Tennant…

What movies or TV shows has Netflix introduced you to? What movies do I need to see?