Netflix’s “After Life” and the Cycle of Depression and Self-Absorption

Alona Beach, Panglao, Bohol, Philippines

I am glad that I was told about “After Life” as I positively enjoyed every single episode. My friend and I agreed in our thinking that it’s not black comedy. Yes, it addresses the subject of death and suicide and Alzheimer’s but it does so with delicacy and compassion and with an adequate amount of humor that only heightens the pain of reality. I prefer to categorize it as dramedy.

(If you haven’t watched it, then you may not want to continue reading.)

Though he’s not my favorite character, I admire Tony’s brother-in-law for his quiet strength. Frail-looking and too kind for most people, he is able to live his life with all the problems without complaining to or bothering others about it. He represents the many mature people who selflessly help others without being asked in return how they, themselves, are faring in this life.

And then there’s depressed, self-absorbed Tony. Though we can understand and even empathize with him in his pain over losing his wife and best friend, and we admire his devotion to his late wife, we may also want to shake him into waking up to reality which is that he actually has a good life — much better than most people, and the only reason he is depressed is he is focusing on what he lost, not what he still has which is so much more than what majority of humanity have.

I understand that we all experience grief when we lose someone we love, but we are not supposed to be entombed in that grief among the living. Unless one has damage in the brain, I believe we are all capable of recovering from this emotional pain, suffering, or depression.

(I love how the scenes are shot mostly in the day time or in well-lit rooms. It reinforces the overall optimism that this show presents.)

Tony has people around him who truly care about him. Even the new employee, Sandy, likes him instantly and asks him to be happy. His brother-in-law tolerates him, forgives him for his nastiness, and helps him in every way he can even though he has his own problems.

Tony has a job which may not be the best, but he likes his co-workers who are all good people.

The old widow he meets at the cemetery has more wisdom than the therapist he pays to help him. And he did not have to pay her for getting him out of his self-absorption.

What truly saved Tony in the end is his desire for the pain to stop. Julian was right in saying that Tony had not given up on life yet. Tony just needed to find the right way to get the pain to stop, and thankfully he had the patience and the right people around him to help him. Personally, I think it is most important that one believes and knows that the pain will eventually come to an end. That cliche, “Time heals all wounds,” has always been true.

When you stop focusing all your energy on your pain, and see how others are hurting worse than you are, and if you knowingly try to open your eyes to others’ needs and make an effort to make somebody happy, you’ll be surprised at how, little by little, the pain will subside. And in its place will be peace, and probably even joy that somehow in your own little way, you have made this world a better place by simply being you.

Look around you.

May you find joy in life. 🙏🏽💕

T.

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Because there’s no such thing as forever…

I saw a picture of a huge graffiti on a wall in my city that read: WALANG FOREVER (There’s no forever) and shared it with my family, joking that whoever wrote it must have been really hurting. But my ever-serious 16-year-old nephew replied: “There really is no forever.” To which I said: “But that’s not what Kenny Loggins said!”

When I checked on Google, there is actually a good number of people asking why “forever” is promised by people in love when everyone knows this is a mere impossibility. I did not bother reading the answers because I think we all know what the answer to that is.

And I am not going to dwell on the reason people say it, but rather on the benefit of there being no forever.

I learned this years ago when I was young and naive and stupidly in love with the most unromantic man I have ever met. We were walking in a quiet, wooded area, dead leaves crackling under our shoes as we walked. I looked up when I heard the sound of the leaves as a gentle breeze blew. It was such a beautiful moment, walking with the man who meant the world to me then. So I told him. And he said casually, “You know why this is so beautiful now? It’s because you know it’s not going to last.” At that time, it made me feel so sad, but now whenever I think of it, I am grateful that at that moment, I learned to appreciate things that have a short life span.

Now when my husband leaves for work in the morning and says goodbye to me, no matter how busy I am, I stop whatever I’m doing and give him my full attention.

As I travel every month, I say a proper goodbye to my family and friends because who knows, we may never see each other again (that plane could … you know?)

This is not to dismiss the anguish of those who are suffering, but I sometimes think those who are told they only have this or that much time to live have the benefit of preparing not only themselves but also their loved ones of the former’s impending departure.

A few months before my mother’s demise, I was telling bestfriend no.2 what a terrible time it was watching my mother suffer. And as usual, he was his brutally honest self and said to me, “This time in your mother’s suffering is God’s gift to you, her children. You will become so tired from not having enough sleep and in pain watching her suffer, you will eventually be ready to let her go.” He was speaking from experience, of course. He gave up his own dreams to take care of his father for two years until his father’s death from pancreatic cancer.

And he was right. Although it was a stressful, exhausting time, we — my mother, my sisters and I — were given enough time to prepare ourselves for what was going to happen, so the last few days were filled with kind words, sweet smiles, lots of tears, of course, but they were tears of love.

The beauty of there being no forever is that we then see beauty in everything, and we appreciate everything, and are thankful for everything.

We become better people when we remember there’s no such thing as forever. Or at least we should.

May we always try to become better people. 💕

T.

On Pure Love

This post on love made me think, again, on whether or not there is such a thing as “pure” love.

My students, I would say 99% of them, say that a child has to be grateful to their parents for not abandoning them when they were babies, and that parental love is the only example of selfless love in the world. That sounds nice and all, but I just cannot accept this kind of thinking (though I don’t really argue with them on what they have been taught by their teachers and parents.)

First of all, if a couple decided to give birth to a baby, that baby is their responsibility — morally and legally. Having that baby was their choice. They just cannot change their minds after the baby is born that it’s not the kind of baby they wanted. It’s not like a badly-cooked Kung Pao Chicken that they can refuse to eat or not pay for after having ordered it. Should a child be grateful for not being abandoned? It would be thoughtful of him to be so, but I do not see it as necessary. After all, he did not ask his parents for the “favor” of being brought into this world.

Second, parents decide to have children FOR A REASON. And there are a variety of reasons from the most romantic to the most practical:

1. they want to prove their love for each other

2. they want to contribute something to this world

3. they want to continue the family line

4. they want someone they can care for and love

5. they want someone to take care of their wealth when they die

6. they want to have someone look after them in their old age

7. they want someone to bury them when they die.

There may be many more reasons, but all of them stem from a couple’s or a parent’s inherent desire to fulfil something that they themselves want.

So how can that love be truly “pure”?

As a parent, I love my son. He is my world, the reason why I try to stay healthy and not die yet. But I cannot say that I love him selflessly because that would be a lie. I love him not only because I am responsible for bringing him into this world but also because he makes me happy.

I think we, humans, are simply incapable of pure love, no matter how we try to make ourselves believe that we are. I wonder if one day, science will be able to make that happen for us. Perhaps by that time being “human” already means something else.

Week 10 Prompt: Juxtapositions (A Look at “First Reformed”)

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Image source

There are a number of reasons to like this movie: for me, the first three would be Ethan Hawke, ETHAN Hawke and ETHAN HAWKE!!! And for my friend who recommended this movie, it’s Amanda Seyfried.

But if you are a huge fan of plot-driven films, this may not be your cup of tea. My friend thought this movie ran for 3 hours when it’s only less than 2 hours long.

The pacing is a little slow, even camera movements are predominantly slow. As I don’t have expertise in film, I can only say that as a viewer, I find the slowness a reflection of how Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke) seems to be living his life — one day at a time, hardly any movement or willingness to move on.

Light and Darkness/Shadow

There are several shots of the very white and neat exterior of the First Reformed Church in broad daylight, and probably the same number of shots of the dark bedroom of Reverend Toller. Sometimes there’s only one candle lighting the whole room. To me this  reinforces idea of the duality in his personality in how he presents himself to the outside world (one who has strong faith, knows how to deal with all kinds of people) and how he really feels and thinks about himself. He leads the service on Sundays, even though on his own, he says he is incapable of praying. (To me, though, his writing in his journal is an act of prayer.)

Hope and Despair

When Reverend Toller speaks with Michael, he speaks against despair. Ironically in the end, he fails to rescue Michael from that despair which turns out to be infectious as he, himself, tries to end his own life.

Mary, on the other hand, is the epitome of hope in her own quiet way — despite grieving the loss of her husband, she looks forward to having the baby that Michael had wanted her to abort.

Interior and Exterior

Reverend Toller on the outside, exemplifies calm and composure, just like the ultra neat and white exterior of the church, but inside he is full of turmoil and uncertainty. His soul probably needs as much cleansing as his broken toilet that needs unclogging. And that metaphor becomes literal when he tries to use the drain cleaner to kill himself.

This duality is quite common. How many people do you know whose actions have surprised you as they are “out of character”? With Reverend Toller, however, there is dramatic irony— the audience are amply prepared for his decision to end his life, but the people around him are not.

Perhaps the one idea from this film that I liked best is restraint. Reverend Toller’s attraction to Mary is developed quite subtly. At first he seems to be simply a very dedicated pastor helping out a parishioner. But one scene that made me certain he is falling for her is that of the two of them cycling and, as he writes in his journal, “I had not been on a bicycle, I think, in 20 years. I was afraid I would fall.” And he went to muse on the curative power of exercise. There is a look of pure joy on his face as they bike on the trail.

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Spiritual, though not as religious as Esther, Mary brings out the spiritual in Reverend Toller. With her, he can pray with words and with his soul. Yet, he has to restrain himself in his attraction to her. This he is able to do for a while, but after Mary appears before him as he is about to drink the drain cleaner, that restraint finally gives way to full expression in an embrace and a long kiss. This last scene is my favorite part — the feeling of finally letting out what you have been holding in for a long time is more than liberating. It’s exhilarating.

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For me, this movie is simply another reason to love Ethan Hawke.

A Prayer for Elijah and Every Child with Special Needs

Dear God,

Thank you for blessing me with this wonderful creature that is my son, Elijah, whom I named after your great prophet, in the hope that he, too, would grow to be as faithful and as eloquent in spreading your word. Though, as yet, he has not been blessed with the gift of words, Elijah, just by being who and what he is, still succeeded in converting the ones closest to him from being self-absorbed and impatient individuals to ones with an almost impossible amount of selflessness and forbearance. Thank you for making him an instrument in bringing out the good in people around him.

I pray for Elijah and children like him who are special in their own special ways, that You grant them the ability to one day, live independently, and not wholly rely on other people for their daily needs.

I pray that one day, they will be able to express themselves without being frustrated at the inability of the people around them to understand whatever it is they want to express.

I pray that one day, they will be able to share what it is they sense that makes them smile that sweetest of smiles, what makes them laugh that most infectious laughter that seems to come out of nowhere.

But should this not be part of the plan, I pray that in Your mercy, you send them people who will love them for who and what they are, long after their parents are unable to look after them.

I pray that You bless them with loving individuals who will guide them in navigating the complexities of life in this sometimes cruel world.

I pray that despite all the troubles they may encounter in this life, they will always have that joy that only they, in their specialness, can find in their own world.

And may they always have it in their unblemished hearts and minds that life is beautiful and that it is worth living.

Finally, I thank You, dear God, for the people who have helped, continue to help and will help Elijah and every special child like him, live meaningful and happy lives.

May you bless them a hundred, a thousand fold for their kindness and dedication.

May they be grateful as I am for the opportunity of having such a special human being in our lives.

And may they praise You, like I do, for Your boundless generosity and mercy.

Amen.

Daily Prompt: Constant

He laments the quick and merciless

Passing of time and the white strands of hair

That are starting to show on his temples.

He looks at old photographs and then looks at himself

In the mirror and sighs …. “Time is unkind.

“We were so young then…,” he says.

“And stupid,” she adds.

 

She looks at herself in the mirror and sighs…

This is inevitable,” she says to herself.

“The only thing that is constant is change.

Nature, too, ages.

The sun may rise and set again day after day,

And the waves rush back and forth,

Second after second…

Yet they, too, go through change.

 

“But some things can remain constant

In our lifetime.

We can keep them constant.

And that should be enough.”

Daily Prompt: Constant