I love TV. I always have. Instead of taking naps with my mom and brother when I was little, I used that time for watching soap operas. That’s right. I started at 3 years old watching All My Children, One Life To Live, and Guiding Light on a little black and white TV with a couple of knobs to change channels and adjust the volume. I pretended to be the characters and learned all about kissing and romance and underground worlds and multiple personalities and strong matriarchal women, because, while soaps may be based on far more drama than happens in your average person’s life, they are also rooted in strong women. As I got older my loyalty to soaps waxed and waned, but I held fast to my favorite, and certainly the most progressive soap, One Life To Live. Soaps tackle social issues, and you might say I got my first exposure to social justice through One Life To Live.
Through the years my loyalty to TV has ebbed and flowed, especially depending on how much school work or work-work I was doing. A few years ago, I reclaimed and rediscovered a comfort in TV while going through seemingly endless disability trials. I couldn’t seem to focus on it during hospital stays, but while at home I found that TV was an escape, a comfort in times where I had little control over my life and body, and at a time when a large portion of my time was spent in bed. Given different working muscles and body parts or the ability to sit up in bed instead of lying flat or on my side, I would have read and read and read, highlighting and making notes along the way, perhaps writing a better Master’s thesis than even I could have dreamt. No such luck though, so I watched TV. I became engrossed in stories, in characters, in the dependability of it all, in the escape it provided while biding time, in the comfort it provided when I would awaken in the middle of the night with thoughts of terror racing through my already traumatized psyche. All I had to do was turn on my television, flip through the endless channels and a favorite movie was sure to be playing or reruns of some silly sitcom, anything to quiet my mind from the fears about which I could do very little. As things have changed in my life, I have let go of some of the shows I used to watch, but I still have a few that grab my attention each week. And, for as long as I can, I’ll keep up with my remaining soap, One Life To Live. Sometimes coping mechanisms are just within our reach.
A couple of years ago, I started watching Grey’s Anatomy. I’d seen a couple of episodes previously but had not gotten into it until I learned about some of the storylines from a caregiver. Then I was hooked and caught up on all of the past episodes pretty quickly during the summer and while resting and fighting a lingering cold. Last night’s episode was a musical episode. This could have been a really poor excuse for experimentation, and I’m aware some think it was a bad idea, but I LOVED it. I loved everything about it.
The episode picked up from the end of last week’s cliffhanger where two of the characters (both surgeons and regular cast members) were in a car crash. One of them turned out okay, but the other was not wearing her seatbelt and was thrown through the windshield of the car landing on the hood. Did I mention she was pregnant? She was rushed to the hospital, and the rest of the episode showed the surgeons working on her while an image of herself sang and many of the other doctors sang. I know, it seems very corny, but it touched me on a deeper level than even I, self-professed soap opera and TV lover, could have expected. From the beginning I started crying and I only briefly stopped for moments all the way through to the end. I spent many years crying over this or that or for reasons I didn’t even understand, mainly related to sudden disability at a formative age and all that being different at those ages brings with it. All of the adjustment and uncertainty and fear and illness that such a drastic change brings with it were my reasons to cry. And then the crying (largely) stopped. I changed and my life changed, and crying, almost unconsciously, became reserved for the TV episodes and movies that moved me and took me to a place where they opened up my soul and created a sacred safe space to feel and own those emotions. I cried last night for all of us who go through these crises with our fragile bodies.
The music that the woman who was in the accident (Callie Torres, played by the amazing Sara Ramirez) sang and the other doctors sang was a comfort, a processing, a way to work through the fear and pain and trauma and terror of such a horrific situation. The music, and the feelings that the lyrics conveyed, were the heart of the episode. The other voices around each character who sang fell silent or barely audible until all you could hear was their own voice, their own pain, fear, and need for comfort. They utilized music in such a special way that comforted, consoled, gave strength and clarity and calm and resolve to everyone involved, including the viewers, the audience. Those of us who have been through trauma and the medical system know these fears all too well. We know how disconnected we can feel from our bodies, how cold and impersonal doctors and other medical staff can be, and how scared and alone we feel in these situations, in these times.
Each of the songs these characters sang touched a special place and reached far beyond that moment or that feeling and brought out the losses and fears and yearnings that are unique to such a crisis, which can be felt in all of us. Whether it’s the car crash that put us and our baby in jeopardy, or the surgery for a pressure sore and infections and blood clots and foreign objects inserted into our bodies when we feel dreadfully alone and scared beyond words, or the latest treatment for our chronic illness that instead of giving relief rips our body in parts we never knew, or the loss of a love that was so special but forbidden by some force we cannot fight, or the waiting patiently and impatiently hoping against all hope and bargaining with all that we have for just one more moment, one more day, or even the gradual but horrid awareness of a painful reality of that which changes us in ways we cannot begin to explain to those who are not part of our crip community.
And the music moves us and holds us close and stops us cold and keeps us feeling…despite and in spite of and because of it all. And it heals us. And it opens old wounds. And the dance continues.
P.S. You can watch the episode online here.