Thursday, February 10, 2022

Life in Serial Form

I just finished Jonathan Franzen’s epic novel Crossroads. Though well-written and engaging, I must confess that I grew weary of hanging out with its dysfunctional family, its members obsessed with God, dealing with drug issues and struggling with their own mental health. Yet when in an interview with the author, he reveals that this is the first of a three-part series, I knew that I would read the next one, curious as to what had become of Perry and Judson, Becky and Clem, how Russ’s new ministry was going, whether Marion’s new-found healing held and if Rick Ambrose was genuinely good or whether he finally got brought down by a sex scandal. 


My new read is the third in a series of four novels by Elin Hilderbrand, having enjoyed another series of three that she wrote. Back in the living room, the Swedish TV serial Bonus Family gives me something to look forward to in the evening. All of this got me thinking about the power and pleasure of the serial. 


Time at its best may be one eternal ever-cycling present moment, but we humans are forever in the parade of its linear march forward and it’s both comforting and engaging to have an ongoing thread that develops and changes through time with familiar and knowable themes and characters. I’ve always loved movies, but these days, in-between the serial TV show of the month, when I see a movie, it feels such a short time to get to know the characters! Still a good movie is a good movie, but if I watch another one the next night, there’s a certain labor in getting acclimated to the new story and people and setting and theme. I find myself preferring the long-term commitment a few seasons of a show provides.


As with films or books, so with life. I remember the feeling of my first class each year teaching three-year olds, looking at each child and thinking, “I hope we’re going to like each other, because we’ve got 11 years ahead of us!” And then in the blink of an eye, there I am giving a graduation speech for one of those kids who sat in that circle, often with their 8th grade self at eye-level or even looking down at me. Always the feeling that this has been quite a serial drama watching them grow and develop— and maybe for them watching me as well! 


So it has been with just about all aspects of my life. The serial drama of waking up next to my wife over the past 48 years, life in the school where I walked the halls for 45 years, my children now 37 and 41 years old, people in my men’s group turning 80 after 32 years together, my grandchildren now 10 and 6. All of us characters in the grand serial drama, forever changing and growing and developing and evolving and staying the same. 


And me hoping the show will last for many more seasons, curious as to how it will turn out. 


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