For Fiction ‘Big Little Lies’ Holds Powerful Truths

 

If you have not watched Big Little Lies, stop right here. It is simply not to be missed (and this post will have spoiler alerts).

Big Little Lies is so cleverly told; it vacillates between what is real and what is perceived. It shows the characters in positive light as well as negative. It leaves you changing your opinion of them more times than can be counted. It gets into a lot of really serious, heavy topics that keeps you transfixed, hypnotized, stunned and reflecting for days and weeks to come. There are a few prevalent themes that I fervently and impatiently want to dive right into.

 

Judgment

I believe the writers want us, its captivated audience, to pass judgment regularly and shamelessly only to be essentially corrected to the point that we feel a tad bit guilty. It starts within minutes of the first episode. We are (briefly) led to believe that these first graders’ mothers are catty, rich women with nothing better to do than gossip and start drama. Ok, so sure, this is true to a degree, but the main characters (Celeste, Madeline, Jane, Bonnie and Renata,) are so much more than that. Sure, they live in an affluent town where almost everyone lives in houses with views that we could only dream about. It also does not help the façade given that the entire cast looks like they are out of a J. Crew catalog. Yet, they show us time and time again they have real problems: domestic abuse, ex-husbands and unresolved issues, infidelity, rape, struggling to balance work and parenthood, to name a few. It is a blatant reminder of how much judgment we often pass when firstly, it’s quite frankly none of our business and secondly, we do so without even knowing the full or real story. Not all things are as they seem.

 

Judgment and Abuse

It is deliberate that the show takes place in Monterey. It is not set there simply because of the views, the money or how much it is thriving. It is to demonstrate that abuse can happen anywhere.  It does not discriminate financially or demographically. Big Little Lies proves that women who stay in abusive relationships do so not just because they do not have the money to leave. Women (and men) stay out of some sort of fear and/or manipulation. It might be fear of not being financially supported. It may be the fear of being found and harmed.  It may be the fear of taking children away from their fathers (albeit even though they are abusers) and how damaging that can be to the children. It may be fear of public shame. Whatever it is, their reasons are valid. And from the outside it is easy for any of us to say “but just leave!” and question how they could stay, how could they leave their families in danger, how can they leave the general public in danger because they are “letting” these abusive monsters, these loose cannons out in the world?

 

That is what this show wants us to do: to question, to judge. They want us to look at Celeste and find ourselves bewildered that a woman of her stature, of her beauty, of her intelligence could be in such an insanely unhealthy marriage. The writers and producers want us to judge Jane and wonder, how could she never have reported her assaulter?  How could she not prevent him from assaulting other women? Would she really find him after all those years in San Luis Obispo, and would she seek revenge? Would we blame her if she did? If she is so haunted by him (she sleeps with a gun under her pillow), how come she never sought therapy?

 

Judgment and Bullying

It was so heartbreaking to see sweet little Amabella time and time again sad, bruised and isolated. What a horrible thing for anyone to go through, let alone an innocent 6 year old. Imagine being parents, fully aware their child is being bullied and feeling totally helpless. (Although, it can be argued that her parents could have pulled her out of school to stop her from being bullied. It can be argued that in doing so, it may solve their problem, but it is likely the bully will just find a different innocent victim).  I know I had moments of being appalled at how malicious Renata and her husband acted, how inappropriate Gordon was to Jane in threatening her with a restraining order. It is easy for any of us to feel disgusted by how this harrowing abuse brought out the worst in people, but it is not our place really to judge how Amabella’s parents  or Jane acted.  Regardless if you agree with what they did or what they said, you cannot deny they were doing what they thought best to protect their child.  And it is easy for anyone who is not in that situation to feel they know how best to handle it.

 

Forgiveness and Uniting

The power of forgiveness is something we often lose sight of. Often we are too stubborn to grant it. But my god, being angry will suck the energy right out of us. It brings the worst out in us, and it blinds us to doing really what is right.

 

Renata and Jane, even after trading nasty insults and almost having an eye poked out, they even managed to put their differences aside. They came together because their love for their children was the most important thing in the world.

 

So many of us hold grudges, some more extreme than others.  Some grudges are petty and some are founded. It is like once that grudge has been formed, all reality becomes distorted. There is no coming back from it. That is, until something tragic happens. In those harrowing, sobering moments of reality, it is like we forget why we were so angry or why we hated someone so much. It is like all traces of why we held onto so much hatred and anger just vanishes because there is something so much more important at stake.

 

In the story of Big Little Lies, it sadly took someone’s death to unite five women (and their men who supported them).  In just a few short moments, there was a sudden undeniable realization by Jane that Perry was the one who had assaulted her more than 6 years ago. Her reaction, the change in her supporting grip on Madeline became so jarring that both Madeline and Celeste (and I would say Perry) all knew it to be true. As Perry lunged for Celeste, all the women around her, including Renata, instinctively knew they had to protect her. They sensed danger and without any hesitation, they all fought for Celeste. Bonnie, who saw Celeste struggling to get away from Perry earlier, also without a doubt knew something was strikingly amiss.

 

All their drama, all their differences were gone. The scene of Perry’s murder, seeing Bonnie come running desperately to stop him, instantly bound all of those women and their families together.  In one short moment, it erased their history and showed just how powerful and magnificent people can be. I watched that scene probably a dozen times because I was truly struck by how amazing people can be and that feeling of renewed faith in humanity overcame how disgusted I was by how evil the world can also be (as seen in Perry).

To me, the best example that so beautifully ties all these themes together was in the scene of Celeste confronting her son, Max, about bullying Amabella.  There are people in the world who may never change, they may always be dark and troubled (I have met one or two in my life).  But we want to have faith and hope that people as whole, especially children, can be rehabilitated. I do not believe Max bullied Amabella because he is an evil troubled soul. He was a highly misguided child who grew up in a home where he heard, if not saw, his father beat up his mother, slamming her against walls, kicking her and throwing things at her. He then saw his father shower his mother with affection, and he saw his mother accept that affection with seemingly sincerity. He was learning that to show love to a woman (or to a girl) is to be mean, to belittle her, to bully her. To threaten her. And she will still love you. Because that’s what adults do.

 

Celeste freed Max of this as did all of the other women and their children. They showed love and forgiveness and it overcame any judgment. For as tragic and serious as many of the storylines are, I still walked away from this show feeling hopeful and renewed. Watching all the women and children on the beach, while I am not oblivious to their struggles or pain, felt ironically uplifting. I want to believe that for as fundamentally messed up that this world is, that there are good people in it. That there are people who struggle but can come together. I want to believe that when we encounter unprecedented situations, we will do the right thing.

 

 

 

 

 

When Your Car Breaks Down, Who Will You Call?

Friendships morph, grow and even dissipate over the years. Sometimes you struggle trying to stay connected to friends who are in different places in life, may it be marriage, parenthood or even geographically different.  Sometimes you have friends that you outgrow and sometimes even friends where you feel like you are trying to catch up to. Friendships can prevail though through all sorts of circumstances, ups and downs and changes. What is important to you when it comes to true friends? After 30 plus years, I have figured out what the definition of a true friend is to me. And yes, I am about to share that with you.

Let’s start with the fundamentals that have become my guiding principles. Being a true friend would be describing me as, “That’s Missy. The sassy, petite girl who works her ass off at the gym, is an amazing writer and the best aunt ever. And I am damn proud to know her.” Being a true friend is wanting to spend time together whether it is just the two of us or 20 of us. Being a true friend is accepting me as I am. Being a true friend is complimenting, encouraging, supporting and reinforcing  all the great things about me. Being a true friend is not taking one single bad experience and making a determination of my character. Being a true friend means listening, not just to what I say but to what I don’t say. Being a true friend means you know me so well that you can instinctively pick up on when something is not right with me. Being a true friend means knowing  that I brighten when I talk about my nieces and nephews, that fitness is a passion and that despite my own set of challenges, I have persevered.

I often think of who my true friends are in terms of putting together a guest list for my future fictitious wedding. The ones who make the cut are the ones that I know I will still be friends with 5 years and beyond from now. When I look back at big day’s photos, I want to see my friends who are still a part of my life. I do not want to invite people just to fill seats. I want friends who I am connected to. My true friendships have reciprocity of authentic and genuine love and respect.

Being a true friend is about the details and the little things. They show that you know what I need and when I need it. They show you know the little things about me that perhaps other people don’t. You do all of them with no judgment (and often a lot of humor). Being a true friend is sending flowers after my first CrossFit competition. Being a true friend is killing gigantic terrifying water bugs for me. Being a true friend is sending me a card for no occasion other than because you were thinking of me. Being a true friend is being my responsible adult after surgery and standing outside my first shower post-surgery to make sure I don’t have a “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” kind of situation.

Being a true friend is believing in the old saying “when you love someone set them free.” It takes a strong person to let a friend “break up “ with you so that they can work on themselves. It happens a lot where we need time to figure things out and reevaluate friendships. Sometimes in these breaks we learn that perhaps the friendship is not what we thought or wanted. But it also happens that we are reminded of all the reasons why we value that friendship. It shows character in both friends in the equation. It takes character to say “you know, I miss you and I want to reconnect.” It takes character for the other friend to understand their friend so well that they are willing to give that friendship a second chance.

Being a true friend does not mean I need to hear from you or see you every single day. I know who my true friends are and that when they do think of me, it is with fondness and love. It also means understanding that friendships go through ebbs and flows, and when there is an ebb, it does not mean you are any less important to me. Any one person only has capacity for so much at any one time. People’s priorities shift and ebbs are not necessarily a reflection that you are valued any less. Being a true friend means that you can handle those uncomfortable moments where someone is going to call you out on your shit and that you can get past differences that only make the friendship stronger. Being a true friend means understanding and respecting boundaries. (post on that here). Being a true friend means you can go five days or five years from the last time you saw each other, and it is like no time has passed at all.

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I also have recognized what being a true friend does NOT mean. Being a true friend is not based on the superficial. It does not mean first describing me as “you know, the cute girl with the great ass” (although to be fair, if you ever want to tell me anything along those lines,  I certainly will not stop you). It is not waiting to accept or decline an invitation until all other invitations are in.  It is not trying to “fix” me when I am not asking to be fixed. It is not spending time together in an opportunistic way. Being a true friend is not putting me down or making me feel less of myself. It is not making a judgment based on a single event. Being a true friend is not doing all the talking and never asking a question. Being a true friend does not mean that you necessarily know what my favorite color is or where I went to college or what kind of a car I drive.

When I look through pictures and photo albums (yes I really do have printed photos), I see so many people in them, most of who I do not necessarily even keep in touch with. Some I look at with disdain, some I look at fondly. Some I look at and I am reminded of a lifelong connection to. They are the ones who stand out to me. They are the ones I have met unexpectedly. They are true friends I have met in kindergarten, in college, at jobs, at the gym, at CrossFit, at running clubs, on vacations. Some I have instantly connected with. Some friendships have formed over time. No matter though how I met them, when I met them or where I met them,  they are my true friends because they all have hearts that are nothing but kind, pure, and just plain goodness. They have seen me at my best, and they have seen me at my worst. They are my true friends because they are the ones I want at my side. They are my history, my present and my future. They are the ones that like my nieces and nephews, make my eyes light up when I think about them. They are the ones that can make me laugh, make me think, make me humble, make me… Me.