I like to set goals. I thought it might be fun this Thanksgiving to see what happened if I watched seven episodes of This is Us in one sitting. My plan was to start with Déjà Vu and blast my way through to Number Two. The most I’d ever watched was three episodes--the first three--after one too many people told me this was a show I had to watch. I hate being told what to do, so I resisted. Additionally, since writing a book about adoption earlier that year I didn’t know if I could bear watching someone grapple with adoption on screen. My friend sat me down on the couch, finally, turned on the TV, and said, "You are watching this whether you like it or not."
Well. I was hooked.
I watched the first season religiously. And then there was the break and that feeling came again, that feeling of should. I should watch that show, that show that breaks my heart over and over again. That show that makes me love everyone. I fell behind. Hence the Thanksgiving binge-watching idea.
I made it through half of one. Maybe not even that.
I knew from the start this show was going for it. As Jack stood in front of the group at AA and talked, I felt in my body this was going to be a deep dive. (What’s deeper than going for the jugular the show seems to go for every week? The heart of the heart? That’s where I ached as I watched Jack open up to this group of people gathered in the effort of healing, of staying sober. I ached inside my heart.)
Jack said he was trying to talk more, bare his soul. He said, “It feels like you get extra credit around here for crying,” and he could just as easily have been talking about the show. He said, “I promised my wife we would talk more, but this time I’m finding it harder to do.”
It’s so painful to watch someone try to be himself and to come up against a wall of all the habits he’s built up to keep him safe. Jack’s face was tired, earnest, and already I was crying.
The show cut to Rebecca checking in on Randall who was working at his computer. She told him it was late, time for bed. She asked if he was okay, and he said yes. As she leaves the room, we saw Randall was writing a letter asking for information about his birth mother. So maybe he’s not so okay.
The show cuts back to Jack as he talks about his sons to the group. He said, “I hope they don’t end up cavemen like me. I hope if something’s weighing them down they don’t keep it bottled up.”
We have these hopes for our children that they will not repeat our troubled behaviors, and it is so sad when we see nothing changes from father to son. Jack has hopes for Randall, but adoption is tricky business when parents claim you as their own even when your skin is not the same color as theirs, and so you hide your desire to find your roots to avoid hurting the people you love most in the world.
Excuse me, I guess my story is taking over how I view this show. I got myself confused with Randall even though he is black and I am white. So much of our story is the same. This is just one of the beauties of this show. So many people think it is about them because this is so much more than a show: it's a window into our, all of our it seems, souls. And when you have felt invisible or misunderstood or when you don't even understand yourself, this can feel like a miracle.
In the next shot, we saw Randall excitedly looking at an envelope addressed to him, and he was so joyous! So alone!
And all of these scenes were just the introduction to the show!
Now the show kicked in for real with Randall and Beth in the kitchen of their house, Randall was beside himself with the anticipation of getting a foster child. He was practically climbing out of his own skin because he had decided being a foster parent was his calling, and he wanted the call to happen; he wanted the child to arrive.
And then, of course, the phone rings, and the child arrived. We see her from behind, as if the camera was her face and we were seeing the world as she saw it, this new family that was taking her in.
I turned the show off. I had too many feelings. I felt like a frozen person who wanted to burst into tears.
One thing you can count on with This is Us is that all characters are going to be pushed beyond what they think they can tolerate, and on that Thanksgiving Day, I couldn’t watch Randall’s heart being broken yet again. I couldn’t bear to watch what was going to happen to a character named Déjà Vu.
The writing was on the wall. All was not going to be well even when there was such wondrous moments I’d get weepy for days remembering them, months. Jack doing pushups with Randall on his back. Chills, still.
As a massage therapist, I look for trigger points. I watched my client’s eyes as I palpate, and when they wince or water, I stay. I hold the point with one pressing fingertip and rock gently, waiting, waiting, waiting for the constricted tissue to unbind and release. Trigger points are shocking because generally you don’t know they’re there, and then someone like me presses on them and the pain is searing, and then this pain that you didn’t know was there and that makes you want to cry slowly goes away and, often, disappears.
Watching This is Us is like a full body workout as it goes for and clears trigger point after trigger point that I didn’t even know was there. Issues about my mother, my daughter, my job, my friends, my eating, my feelings are reflected back to me week after week, and I am more alive in my body because of this.
I just can’t do it all at once. I have to do it point by point, slowly, with love and attention and forgiveness.
I have a handful of shows left to watch. I am very hopeful.
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