Let’s Talk About “This Is Us”

Every week, since September 20th, I have looked forward to cozying down on my couch after the kids go to bed to watch NBC’s new hit show, This Is Us.  

I’ve always had a longtime love of Milo Ventimiglia (always have been on Team Jess), and have admired Mandy Moore since I was a kid. The fact that they are in the show, as well as the fact that the show is produced by the same people who gave us Parenthood, well…I was intrigued from the beginning. It didn’t take me long to really fall in love with This Is Us and with the characters in it.

There is so much I like about This is Us, but I think the one thing that makes it particularly special is that it’s about life.  It’s about people and the beauty that can be found in the messiness of every day living.

This is Us draws us in by introducing us to typical characters, allowing us to make initial judgments about who they are and the choices we think they will make based on their state in life.  At the same time, This Is Us shows the audience again and again that these characters are much more than they first seem to be; they are complex, and rich characters who cannot be defined merely by their appearance or their present state in life.

(Warning, some spoiler alerts!) We meet Rebecca, a sometimes high-strung and selfish woman, yet we see her time and time again prove to be an incredibly selfless and devoted wife and mother.  The Patriarch, Jack, is a kind and compassionate husband and father, but at times we are shown his weaknesses, such as his struggle with alcoholism.  Despite his struggles, he works hard to remain steadfast for his family. Kate is a woman who struggles with her obesity, self esteem, and depression.  Yet, at the same time, she is beautiful, smart, headstrong, and loyal to her family.  As we get to know her life story, we realize her pains run deep, both physically and spiritually.  Though her inner pains have the ability to get the best of her, she nonetheless continues to work hard towards becoming a better version of herself.   Randall is the one who seems to have it all together: he has the perfect wife and family, and is successful and driven.  However, he often crumbles under the weight of that perfection, and has to learn to slow down and appreciate the little things in life.  Kevin is one of those characters that in real life we’d both love and loathe to be around; pretty to look at, but not a whole lot going on upstairs.  Yet, the beauty of his character is his whole journey towards selflessness.  As we see him progress through the show, we witness him grow; he learns, overtime, what it means to love authentically by dying to self, and as he grows, we begin to see his true depth.  William, the biological father of Randall, is a character who is full of life, but at the same time on the brink of death.  His terminal illness is a constant reminder for his son, as well as for the audience, that life is precious.  Though William is an all around good-humored and kindhearted man, his life was shaped by a few really big mistakes he made.  At one of his lowest points in life, we see him drugged out and abandoning his newborn baby on the step of a fire station.  Yet, as we follow his life story, we come to learn about the pains he endured that led him to those mistakes, and how despite his losses and addiction, he was able die a dignified death, through the power of love.

Through detailed flashback scenes the audience learns that, oftentimes, preconceived notions of who these characters are and what led them to their present state, are not only wrong, but miss the point of personhood altogether: that humans are intricate and complex beings, worthy of dignity and love—no matter their walk in life.  This is Us is a great show because it presents characters who are real; characters who mess up, sin, fall short, and fail.  At the same time, the show exemplifies what it means to grow through these shortcomings, without sacrificing the pain and sorrow they have to go through to get there.

This is us save

As the show progresses, I come to appreciate more and more the meaning of “us” in the title of the show.    The “us” in the title of the show points, of course, to the characters in the show, but also to a more profound beauty–one that resonates so deeply in our faith as Christians.  It’s a beauty premised on the great reality of life: that we are all in this together!  From man to wife, sister to brother, parents to children; from the mailman, to even a stranger on the street: ware all in this crazy, chaotic, joyful, painful reality of life…together. I think this show is great because it pushes us beyond our own comfort zones to realize that people–all of us–are frail, weak, and broken.  Though the show is not primarily a faith-based show, by presenting the frailty of humanity–in the family life, in mistakes made, in times of trial and suffering, and even through death–the show is able to exemplify a certain depth of human beauty.  God meets us in our imperfections and in our frailty, and there, he teaches us what it means to love.  We are both dependent and interdependent creatures; all dependent on the love of our God, and all interdependent on the love of each other.

I love this show because it is a great reminder that everyone has a story.  No matter how you encounter someone or what you think they are going through, the reality is that you have no idea what lead them to be who they are today.  Perhaps if you get to know them a bit better–get to know their stories–you may even fall in love with who they are.   As Christians, this is what our faith demands of us! It demands us to recognize that no man is an island and every man is worthy of love.  We are not solitary beings, but rather, we are all deeply connected. 

untitled

I can’t wait for the finale tonight!  The previews always have us guessing one way, but end up throwing us off track.  I can’t wait to see how the story unfolds, especially since, so far, they have been really kind to their audience.  I have a feeling the finale will do justice to Jack’s life, and that his death–no matter how tragic it happens–will come together in the end with meaning and purpose.

Who’s watching???  Comment below with your ideas on what will happen tonight! 

Untitled

Receiving the Word: Stay Awake!

advent-five-week-1

“Jesus said to his disciples: “‘As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark.  They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.  So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man.  Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.  Therefore, stay awake!  For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.  Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.  So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.’” Matthew 24:37-44

untitled

What does it mean to be awake? I had this on my mind after reading this Gospel last night, and in my readiness for sleep, I was short for answers.  I told myself I would think about it in the morning, but as usual I woke up not to any thought of my own, but to a little boy climbing on my belly excitedly saying, “Time to wake up?!”  Before I could even really respond, he went through his usual morning requests for breakfast (this time asking for tacos), wanted to watch “Dinosaur Train” (which he knows he never gets in the morning), and asking for Lucy, his sister, to get up with him (she’s his best friend).  His excitement for waking was met with my reluctance to start the day.  Before I begrudgingly pulled myself out of bed to tend to his requests, I remembered the Gospel I read the night before, and thought to myself:  So this is what God is calling me to?  Half of me wanted to stay in bed, but the other half knew I had to get up.  I have responsibilities that require my attentiveness and slacking on the job is not optional, or at least, not optimal.  So, in my weariness, I looked at my son’s face—so excited for a new day—and thought, if only I could wake daily with the excitement that he has.

Why was I so wanting to sleep, more than wanting to start my day?  Because a new day requires me to work again.  It requires me to get up, be alert, be ready to respond to my children’s needs and the needs of my husband; to cook, to clean, to do laundry, to run errands, to write, to study, and accomplish the most that I can, in the best way that I can, for the time that I have before I have to get up and do it again tomorrow.  And it can be exhausting.  I huff under my breath each morning, “Just a little bit more sleep”; a little bit more sleep to rest from the work that I am called to do.

In examining the very simple task I have each day of awakening (and my daily reluctance towards it), I see many parallels in my spiritual life.  It is so much easier to rest in the things that leave me spiritually complacent and carefree than to work on my relationship with God and on myself.  I allow myself to be spiritually lazy and blame it on the fact that I have got a million other things to do, and very little time to accomplish it all.  If I can squeeze in prayer or my daily examination of conscience, great.  If not, He understands.  I feel satisfied with my day when I have checked off all (or even some) of the boxes on my to-do list and can just collapse on the couch at night to wind down by watching Netflix or scrolling endlessly on pinterest.

The problem that I face in my spiritual life, though, is similar to what would happen if I decided to stay in my bed in my pajamas all day, ignoring my responsibilities and the offerings my day brings me: I would end up a less fulfilled version of myself.  If I failed to respond to the calling of the day, I would lose out on the accomplishment and daily opportunities for growth, and I would be less because of it.  I have to get up, and I have to work, but it is through that work that I find fulfillment in life.

Today’s Gospel reminds us—no, beckons us—to stay awake! Not to merely thrive physically, but more importantly, spiritually.  In the Gospel, Jesus is calling us to three things: to be alert, to work, and to guard.  Just like my physical waking is the only way I can serve, love, move and respond, so too is it in my spiritual life.  The crutch, though, is that I have to wake myself up to God’s calling—it is not anyone’s responsibility but my own.  This requires me to be alert to the opportunities God sends me every day to grow closer to him and to the people around me.   This requires me to work (harder than I do to accomplish the daily physical tasks I am called to)—to put in the effort my faith requires that is sometimes even more difficult, trying, and tiresome.  This is a calling to be joyful in the face of obstacles, frustrations, weariness, and pain; to make the effort to listen to the Lord (especially by reading Scripture and by setting aside time for prayer), instead of just throwing my petitions at him; to see the value and dignity of every human being I encounter throughout my day; to not fall into the trap our world sets for us of settling in complacency; to strive daily to live a virtuous and holy life; to be aware of Church teachings; and to guard my relationship with the Lord by devoting time to him, and especially by running to the Sacraments.

To be truly awake is to be close to the Lord, and we cannot achieve this without work. We learn who we really are and what we are called to only in and through him, and we cannot grow closer to him if we allow ourselves to stay asleep and be robbed of the gift of his love.  untitled

This Advent season, ask yourself: In what ways am I spiritually asleep?  Am I truly alert to God’s will for my life and aware of his love?  Do I guard my relationship with him, protecting it as my greatest good?  What can I do to wake myself up to his love?  What is one change I can make this Advent season that will draw me nearer to him?

May this season of Advent be a time of awakening for us all!

Untitled