The other day I went to a concert at Wheaton featuring the musical talent of the Salvation Army Staff Band (first time for me to hear them!) and one of my favorite musicians, Sara Groves. She sang a few of her classics, including one of her tearjerkers (at least for me)– “To Be With You.”
This song is about Christmas holiday gatherings with family and friends. As she sings about the various family traditions, some of which match my own, each time she returns to the chorus:To be with you To be with you I love this time of year It always brings me here To be with you
As I sat surrounded by strangers in the last row of Edman Chapel, the tears grew in the corners of my eyes. A few escaped and rolled down my cheeks, but for the most part I held my composure. Inside, though, the tears ran full and free.
This was my first Thanksgiving in 25 years to be without my family. Last year I was even able to get together with my sister for a few days. This year I spent the days before working up at church. Thanksgiving Day was actually quite enjoyable, as I spent time with a friend from Wheaton feasting on Thanksgiving food at the Wheaton cafeteria, watching a Disney movie “Frozen,” catching up on TV shows, and feasting again on Hobbit themed meals at Denny’s. It was a great day. The days afterward were nice as well as I slept in, did a little work at home, but mostly lounged around the apartment with Goldie. And then the homesickness struck.
There have been times in my life where I am desperate to be back “home” and times where I am completely fine where I am. Right now I’m 25% the former, 75% the latter. But every once in a while that feeling creeps up on you. And you know what my go-to solution is? TV.
No seriously. TV is a wonderful multi-use drug. (I thought about furthering the drug analogy, but realized that my ignorance of drug terminology would betray me in a second.) For times of homesickness or loneliness or withdrawal, TV can fill that empty space with familiar characters, safe places, enjoyable stories.
Though it has changed over time, my TV families currently are the following:
L-R: Raising Hope, Boy Meets World, Community, Parks and Recreation, How I Met Your Mother, The Office, Glee, and Lost.
I could jump into reasons why each of these families and friend groups are comforts in times of loneliness, but I’ll just focus on How I Met Your Mother, Parks and Recreation, and Lost and what they have to say about friendship, community, and being content.
How I Met Your Mother
How I Met Your Mother is not the story of how Ted Mosby met his future wife. No, it’s the story of five friends (and a slew of minor characters) going through weddings, break-ups, moves, deaths, births, and other legen…wait for it…DARY adventures of life. Boyfriends and girlfriends, family members and friends come and go, but it’s always those five.
Sure, it was originally just Ted, Marshall, and Lily, but then Barney joined the scene and never left. Then Robin and then… well, no, that’s about it. They reached a state of “completeness.” And as much as they are trying to get the Mother to fit in with this crowd, it will never be the same. They hit on this theme again and again. Robin brings an older guy to celebrate Thanksgiving with the group, and boy does he not belong! Ted brings a date to Lily’s birthday celebration, and it does not go well. He has done this year after year, and now all of their birthday photos have some random girl in them.
Now this group is sometimes unhealthy in their rejection of others, but what is the right balance of exclusivity and inclusiveness. And who gets to decide?
Parks and Recreation
I previously wrote about this show in my post A Dozen of the Best Places to Be in Films and Movies and on TV. Let me just copy over what I wrote about the community of Parks and Recreation:
“…any time I watch the TV show, I can’t help but want to be part of the little family in the P & D Department. Yes, they hate on Jerry too much. Yes, Tom is kinda annoying. Yes, April can get on your nerves. Still with all their annoying habits and flaws, they are close in a way that some families never are. If only they could get that park constructed…”
This is still true. The group on Parks and Recreation is a strange family without being a true family. But here’s what is curious about this family– and many other “families” on TV.
Each “family” or community seems to be self-sufficient, self-contained, perfectly content with “just us.” For example, (spoilers ahead!) in Parks and Recreation’s fifth season, Leslie Knope (the lead character) and Ben Wyatt get married. Though they plan for a wedding later in the year, the “moment” comes and they decide to get married right then and there. They wanted the whole town to be there, and the whole town was there for a gala, so they work hard to get the last minute details in place– but the plans get jammed at the last minute. But in a beautiful twist, the wedding occurs in the Parks and Recreation office with the main characters of the show, no more, no less. And no one is missing anyone– everyone is perfectly content with the ten people in the room.
It really is a beautiful wedding, and once again, I love this little family. But it seems so unrealistic to me. But I’ll keep going.
Take my favorite TV show of all time, Lost (more spoilers ahead). If you make it to the finale, you arrive at a church filled with many of the main characters from the show– not all, just many. Twenty people this time. Earlier in the show, they comment on people who aren’t there, but there is no sense of incompleteness in that space. Everyone is content with who is there and who is not there. There is peace, contentment, joy in their small community.
Family is restored.
It’s all about the people in the pews, not the empty pews that surround them.
I’m afraid that I would spend my time glancing around, thinking of all the people we’ve lost, people who should be here, people who would make our family complete.
I even had trouble choosing photos of these various TV families. There are important people missing in each picture. There are less important people (in my opinion) in some of these pictures. I even cut Roy out of The Office picture, not because I don’t think he’s an interesting character, but because I don’t think he is really a member of the “family.” What is the finest expression of a TV family? What is the finest expression of your community of friends and family?
I grew up as an expatriate, that is, a person taking up residency in another country. I was born in Texas, moved to England when I was four, moved to Norway when I was eight, and moved back to Texas when I was twelve. Then, at eighteen, I went to Waco for college, and when I was twenty-three I moved to Illinois. My sister and I have similar experiences– and when someone asks us where we are from or where we grew up… the question is usually followed by a pause, incoherent babble, and finally a commitment to one place (“Houston!” “England.” “Illinois!”) followed by an internal feeling of “No, that’s not right…”
Through my life, I’ve had various categories of people. Family. Family friends. England people. Norway people. Middle school friends. High school friends. Camp friends. Church friends. College friends. Grad school friends. Facebook friends. The boundaries of each group ebb and flow like the ocean, and lines that I try to draw are constantly erased and redrawn, again and again. A camp friend marries a family friend and church friends and high school friends are at the wedding. Worlds collide. Questions are raised. Confusion reigns.
Who is my core group of friends? Who is my family? Who are my friends? If I was lost on a desert island, who would I want to be with? If I could only have four friends for the rest of my life, who would I choose? Who would choose me? At the end of my life, who would I like to be by my side?
I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.
This is a children’s book based on a story by Leo Tolstoy (found HERE on Amazon.) I’ve referred to this story before. It is all about a boy seeking answers to three important questions. And one of those important questions is this: Who is the most important one? He receives this answer: The most important one is always the one you are with.
I wish I could hold up this as the all-time answer. Perhaps there was a time where it was true. But now with technology and ease of travel, we can maintain relationships beyond geographical limits. We still have other limits as human beings, but it’s not so easy as “the one you are with.” I do believe that being present is important– so often we think of the past, people we’ve lost, or the future, people we’d like to be with us– but it isn’t the complete answer. If we only focused on the immediate present, we’d be like goldfish, swimming around with a 10-second memory, never really sure of who is most important to us and to whom we are most important.
I hope this didn’t post didn’t just turn into a mess of muddled ideas. Do you see where I’m going? The question is in the title– “To Be With You– But Who?” Do you know who are the ultimate people in your life? Can you know? Should you know? I begin with a question and end with many more questions. In the end, my goal isn’t to provide answers with my “wisdom” but spur you on to answer these questions for yourself. Go on a journey. Search your heart. Have deep conversations. Make hard choices. I hope you can determine these people, these soul friends– and I hope you can be knit together through time and adventure, joys and loss.
May you know and be known, love and be loved.
May you long no longer.
May you belong.