The Roads We Can’t Ever Travel

Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

On a good friend’s recommendation, I started watching Maid on Netflix yesterday. I finished all ten episodes already, if that tells you anything about the quality of the show. It is about a young, single mother trying to make her own way after leaving an abusive relationship. The characters are raw. Their lives are complicated and difficult. They have mental illnesses, chemical dependencies, financial struggles, and broken dreams. It’s painful to watch, but that is exactly why it should be seen. It’s a poignant reminder of how little we know about the lives of those outside our own circle.

In a time when it seems everyone is on edge and no one seems to notice or care about anyone else, when everyone is quick to anger and judgment, this is the kind of show we need to see. It’s a lesson in our common humanity. If you watch the show and it doesn’t make you a little softer and kinder to your fellow humans, watch it again. It’s time we get our heads back on straight. The pandemic has taken a lot of out of us. We’ve been isolated, stressed about our survival, our lack of freedom, our health. Maybe it would be a good idea to recognize that we are all struggling.

As I’m writing all this pontifical, pie-in-the-sky bullshit, though, I am realizing that I need to be honest with you too. There’s another reason this show grabbed me the way it did. It’s because a large part of it is about surviving emotional abuse, the abuse that has no outward scars so people don’t believe you were injured. There’s plausible deniability in emotions. Well-meaning people tell you to your face that the people who hurt you over and over didn’t mean it. They tell you that you’re being dramatic. They tell you that because they are fortunate enough not to understand what it’s like to have someone close to you manipulate, terrify, and crush you. The show is about deciding to put your mental health first and making the difficult, conscious choice to let others deal with their own demons while you face your own. It’s about using your outside voice to proclaim to the world that you want something for yourself, and you’re ready to believe you deserve it. While watching these characters interact, I saw my life. I saw their struggles and nodded my head. But I also saw their strength, and for the first time I am seeing my own too. It feels good to be at a place where I can like myself for both my beauty and my imperfections.

We don’t know what anyone else is going through. What we know is filtered through our own lens. Tread lightly. Be gentle with others if you can. It’s been a little rough on this rock recently. We can’t know the roads others are on, where they lead, or why they wind the way they do. We can’t help others read their map or give them directions. We can’t ever travel their road with them. We’re not meant to. We have our own road on which to focus and that one deserves our full attention.

A Better Life

Our incredibly fortunate American family on a fjord in Norway in 2009.

Today, while ironing of course, I watched a film I’ve wanted to see ever since the lead actor was nominated for an Academy Award this past winter. I’d never heard of it until the nominations came out, but when a quiet film finds its way into the hearts of the Academy voters I usually pay attention. The movie is called A Better Life. The story revolves around a father, who happens to be a Mexican illegal living and working in the U.S., and his 14 year old son who is a U.S. citizen. The son edges closer and closer to the East LA gang scene and his father worries about him. It is an honest story about a hard-working man whose only desire in life is to give his son a better life than he has had, hence the title.

I loved the movie because it made me think. It forced me to face some of my own prejudices and misconceptions. I can’t tell you where exactly I stand on the issue of illegal immigration because, being a grey person not prone to black and white absolutism, I’m not sure. I can clearly see and understand both sides of the issue. We have laws in this country about citizenship, and I do see the importance of upholding them. On the other hand, though, both sets of my great grandparents came here from Poland on a boat circa 1917, landed at Ellis Island speaking no English, and were able to give their own children a better life than the one they had. I wouldn’t be here if the United States hadn’t let them in nearly 100 years ago.

As Americans, it’s too easy to forget how blessed we are. We may talk about how proud we are of our nation, but most of us have done nothing to earn our citizenship other than to have been born here. Let’s face it. We didn’t have a say in that matter anyway. When you think about how most people on this planet live, we are unbelievably fortunate by virtue of dumb luck. So, it’s fairly easy to sit on our lofty hill and tell others that we’re all full up at the inn. After all, we’re here and our kids will have the benefit of education and health care, so what do we care?

What today’s Ironing Matinee reminded me is that when we talk about “illegals” we’re conveniently labeling others in a way that helps us to forget they’re human beings. As “illegals,” they’re not people, families, fathers, mothers, children. They’re criminals, burdens, statistics, scourges. It’s our apathy about these immigrants’ humanity that troubles me. If you get a chance, watch A Better Life. No matter where you stand on the issue of illegal immigration, it might give you some insight into how hard life is for our neighbors south of the border and how hard it is for them still while they’re living here illegally trying to do the best they can for their families. It might remind you that at our core we’re all the same. We want what is best for our children, and that notion can’t be contained by laws or even by borders.