Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Random thoughts on relationships

I've been watching the movie, "About a Boy", which I find oddly compelling despite the fact that Hugh Grant has occasionally behaved like an absolute idiot. My personal favorite: throwing a package of baked beans at a photographer. What statement might he have been trying to make? Clearly he didn't want to have any kind of positive relationship with the photographer.
That, of course, is irrelevant.
The movie is about making connections. Hugh Grant's character (Will) is a shallow 38 year old who comes to realize that "no man is an island," despite his desire to avoid complicating his life by allowing other people to become a significant part of it. Marcus is a 12 year old whose single mother is profoundly depressed, who realizes that two people are not enough in a family; he muses about half-way through the movie that families need more people, so that if one falls apart, "you've got backup."
So here's my transcript of the end of the movie. Will is at home, apparently hosting Christmas lunch for a crowd. The voiceovers are really the most important bit:

Will (voiceover): By the following Christmas, things were back to normal. Every man is an island. I stand by that. But, clearly, some men are part of island chains. Below the surface of the ocean they are actually connected.
Marcus (voiceover): I used to think two wasn't enough. Now there were loads of people, and that was great, mostly.
Will (voiceover): I'd created a monster. Or maybe he'd created me.

Marcus (voiceover): I don't know what Will was so upset about. All I meant was, I don't think couples are the future. You need more than that. You need backup. Will and I both have backup now. It's like that thing he told me John Bon Jovi said: No man is an island.

All cuteness aside, I think Will and Marcus discovered what I think of as the first gift of postmodernism: families are what we make of them. And when our "blood" families turn out to be inadequate or let us down (and they all do, it's our humanness coming out), we have the other family we make: the friends and acquaintances with whom we are in relationship, who come through when we need them.
Today for me it was a woman in line behind me in the grocery store. The express line was empty, the sign was lit, but the register was unattended. We waited a moment, and then she said, "I wonder where the cashier is."
I replied, "I don't know, but I'm tired and hungry and really crabby. I wish whoever it is would show up."
She walked around the end of the counter and looked over at the manager station, and then back at me. "Don't worry, she'll be here. I gave her the eye."
Of course, ultimately we had to move to another line, but we had bonded in that moment. Just a small bit of solidarity. I don't know her name and I probably never will, but she possessed the humor and grace I didn't have in that moment, and her generosity took the pressure off of me. I don't know what I felt pressured about, but I did, and her shared frustration and ability to smile at it gave me the chance to laugh a little myself.
No person is an island. Sometimes we just need backup.

(cross-posted at Any Way You Slice It)

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