May 05, 2006

A Strong Place

Last night I watched the second episode of the fifth season of Six Feet Under. It's a show about a family who owns a funeral home. It's one of the best TV shows I've ever seen. Almost every episode is a deep exploration of life and death, art and sex.

In the episode I watched last night, "Dancing for Me," Brenda starts an internship at a free psychiatric clinic. There is a discussion of ongoing cases, in one of which children have been tortured. After the discussion, Brenda's mentor at the clinic says, "Are you OK? You have to be in a really strong place to work here."

Yeah, no kidding.

I haven't been in a very strong place for most of my life. I would have quickly dropped out of an internship like Brendas (as she did).

In another part of the episode, Brenda's husband Nate meets up with Tom, an old high school friend he hasn't seen in years. Tom's in a pretty weak place. This guy is living in fear of his own mortality, confused by his fading sexual desire towards his wife, and his own inappropriate desires for young women.

Here's how the conversation goes:
Tom: Nate, don't you ever lie awake in bed at night and think, Jesus, fuck, I'm going to be forty fucking years old. Forty.
Nate: No I don't. I lie awake in bed at night thinking, "Thank you God, thank you for letting me live this long."

Tom: Are you, like, Christian or something?
Nate: No, I've just had a lot of serious shit happen to me in my life. I really get it now, that this doesn't last and I'm no different from anybody else. Yes, indeed, this will happen to me. It is happening to me, a little bit each day. And that doesn't freak me out. If anything, it's liberating.

Tom: Okay, I guess that comes with the territory, I mean. . . your job?
Nate: No, I don't think it's the job really. The job allows me to practice being okay with it.

Tom: Okay, so there, you have to practice. So you're not really okay with it.
Nate: Of course you have to practice, it's not easy.

Tom: It's just so fucking big. I mean . . . it's all going by so fucking fast.
Nate: Well, would you change anything?

Tom: Like what?
Nate: Like who you're with or what you do or what kind of person you are --- because if you would, do it now.

Tom: Oh, dude, that's really harsh.
Nate: Well, look Tom, this is it. This is all we have. Right here. Right now.
The part that really hit me was where Nate says, "I've just had a lot of serious shit happen to me in my life." Nate, more than any other character on the show, is in a strong place. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

I'm having a lot of ups and downs in my life lately, and it's been a real struggle to keep from falling into a really bleak place. Maybe the reason I'm finding my strength now is because I've finally recognized that I'm fighting for my life. That bleak place is death. Even if it doesn't represent the physical death of my body, death is there. Ennui, depression, stagnation, immobility. It sure isn't life.

I was skeptical about the prohibition on alcohol in the Buddhist precepts at first. Since I made my vows, I've broken them several times (see the last blog entry...). But the process has been educational. I've noticed that taking emotional refuge in alcohol is self-reinforcing. Drinking leads to inactivity, and what people really need when depression strikes is lots of activity. They need to be immersed in motion, swept up in action, engaged in life. Maybe that's what emotional strength is, the ability to take positive action in the face of adversity.

Another thing I like about the show is how often Zen teachings make a cameo appearance. Like Nate said, this is all we have. Right here, right now. If you need to change who you're with or what you do or what kind of person you are, do it now.


At May 25, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

My girlfriend and I are HUGE fans of Six Feet Under. It's about the only show that we're both hooked on.

Take care out there


At May 25, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

Thanks, Justin. I'm hooked on one other show: We just got the second season of Deadwood on DVD. Incredible actors, incredible writers, a historically accurate, violent, GRITTY hardcore Western. Some people don't like it, I suspect because of the culture shock (and disbelief) of being exposed to what an old-west mining town was really like. Some of the best characterization I've ever seen. Definitely worth watching.

Things have been looking up lately. Or maybe I'm setting myself up for another fall. But I don't think so. Even if so, at least I'm doing it with open eyes this time.



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