Most people wouldn’t think that a self-identifying Christian would appreciate a television series about two women in their 70’s living in the aftermath of their husbands coming out to them, divorcing them, and getting married to each other.
I admit that at a certain point in my life I wouldn’t have appreciated it.
That was before I knew that life is not as predictable and controllable as many people attracted to “faith” would have it be. But perhaps those of us attracted to faith are more attracted to certainty, or being right and perhaps even to convention itself, than we are to the stuff in life that requires us to have faith.
Now, I wouldn’t let children watch the show, (my little ones are screen-free at this point anyway), but I would encourage grown ups to watch it with an open mind if they are able and ready.
There was a point in my life where I would feel insanely frustrated if I felt I couldn’t predict outcomes, especially if I risked being vulnerable with someone. In the process, I tried to be “moral”. I tried to be “good”. I even tried to impose “morality” and “goodness” onto others. I was one of those people.
What I’ve since discovered is that often right when the truth of what we fear is staring us in the face, instead of facing it, we can often repetitively agonize over longing for a “mom and pop” world. We put ourselves in the false and dangerous loop of really believing that “other times” were truly better. Thinking, “just give me that old time religion” and that will stop the world from going to hell in a hand basket. (I also wonder which “old time religion” that song is referring to? Third century? 11th? 50 years ago?)
Often the delusion that other eras were more golden or more moral, is a condition we impose on ourselves to set catharsis and nostalgia as city walls to guard us from what we fear.
All the while our grandparents were remaining committed to their marriages, or children were better behaved, or churches were better attended, marital rape was not considered a crime (until in some states, 1993), sexual abuse of children went mostly unreported and this was yes, happening in church communities too.
The person suffering from nostalgia for more “upright” times, might think there are more gay people today than at other times, but perhaps it is more true to say there are more gay people actually seen as people in our neighbourhoods and in our world, because, thank God, being gay is no longer punishable by death or imprisonment (at least in our culture).
We find in the hit tv series starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, an unlikely friendship between country club, Type A, control freak (Grace) and hippy, still holding to her counter cultural principals (Frankie). Grace trusts that convention and hard work will protect her, and Frankie ever loves, and trusts that she is loved as equally back.
What we see in each of these women after the shock of finding out their husbands have been cheating on them, with each other for 20 years, is a series of unfolding facades being shed, one episode after the other. It is a process of healing that is anything but pretty. Sort of like life.
I believe that beauty will save the world but I also believe that being in denial is never beautiful. This is where we reach a paradox about living our lives.
I am the first person to line up to watch Anne of Green Gables, but I am now also willing to accept that Lucy Maud Montgomery died of suicide.
With Grace and Frankie, we see their suffering transform into acceptance and friendship. It isn’t a pat and perfect story. But show me anyone being pat and perfect when the façade of their life falls around them and there is no hiding or covering up available as an option.
I see in their children, particularly the daughters of Grace, people who perhaps knew their parent’s marriage was not what it appeared to be. One of them takes the workaholic cynic, don’t come near my heart route, the other marries perhaps a similar man as her father, in the sense that he doesn’t necessarily love her dearly and buries himself in his work.
With Grace, as her conventions fail her, we begin to see underneath this very put together woman, a real person with flaws and fears, who awakens to her sexuality perhaps for the first time.
With Frankie, we see someone struggling with how to live with her heart on her sleeve and trust anyone again. We see her codependence with Sol (her ex-husband) diminish, as she strengthens and gains more courage to just keep letting her heart be what it is, and perhaps even for the first time.
In both women, we get to walk the journey toward accepting what is, no matter how much we wish it could be different at first. We get to see them begin to allow for their unmooring to be an unlikely touchstone… or for their suffering to become a place of peace and new beginnings.
The makers of the show aren’t afraid to shed light on confusion or what can often lie beneath the pretence of a thing. These ladies get down right effed up about their lives. But perhaps their lives were effed up all along, underneath it all. Only it took their husband’s storylines and betrayal to dredge it up to the surface.
I am not saying the show is for everybody. It has verbal content that may offend some, even beyond the storyline. But as for me, it has shown me two characters I can understand, empathize with, and somehow feel I have been.
There was a time I was betrayed, and things were revealed to not be what they were. I have been confused beyond comprehension. I have suffered by having to face “what is” and accept that I have no control over outcomes. And through it all, something eventually began to shine out of me, and out of the circumstance itself, that resembled Great Love.
Christ is revealed in the cracks.
Honestly, any time I begin to fall back into the bogus safety zone of thinking I am beyond the confusion, or any time I start judging someone because they seem “screwed up” (which I’m sure has been used to describe me at times), I come back around to what I know to be true. Faith isn’t about certainty or certitude or defending something to be true.
Faith is what shows up when your proverbial undies are at your ankles exactly at that moment when you thought you had the world fooled that you’re in control… that you have the answer… that you’re above dysfunction.
Faith is what shows up when your heart is breaking and you feel so vulnerable and out of control, but you know you must walk the long miles ahead to rid yourself of codependent patterns and own your own life.
I want to be a wisdom holder in my old age, but what does that look like? Being in control? Pretending that things are not as they are? Or, as James Finley says, “it isn’t that the master is no longer confused, but they are no longer confused by their confusion”. I can see Grace and Frankie moving in the direction of not being confused by their confusion, and that is to me, the way suffering can be turned into beauty.
If beauty is going to save the world, like many of my friends think it is (and I do too!), it will have to do it in a way that incorporates the great labour pain agony of accepting what is, and transforming through it, or it is not beauty. Beauty is not denial. Or as Bono says, “grace makes beauty out of ugly things”.