Hollywood has ruined us. No, not for the usual reasons - which are pretty obvious; but for something else - something more... normal. It has given us a false image of how lives are ruined, and how families die.
I watched a new movie last night; it was the same type of Hollywood story - the big brother with a dazzling ballplayer career pending, the little brother drunk and causing an accident. Big brother loses the use of his hand, little brother is not heard from for 20 years. The family dies - emotionally. This makes for 'edge of the seat' angst. But it doesn't much make for reality.
In Hollywood, 'family death' is always something big; something unforeseen; something so 'out of our control'.
But that's not how relationships die. They don't die by drastic tragedies at the speed of sound. They die by mundane words, or lack of them. They die by small actions, or lack of them. They die, in essence, by inches.
You know why drownings are so terrifying? Because they are so quiet. They are also so easy. The phone rings, the toddler is left in the bath for 'just a minute'. The gate is left open by mistake, the pond is next door and the screen has a tear in it... Easy. We could see it coming any second - and because of that - we don't see it coming.
No, we've grown to believe (and to reassure ourselves) that it is a huge catastrophe that ends things. That way, as long as we're not causing houses to blow up, knives to be thrown, lamps to be smashed - we're okay. People (and relationships) will stay alive, we will have yet another day... I mean, how could it be as quiet and simple as 'the gate left open'?
But that actually IS how relationships die. Yet another late night at the office; surely the wife/husband/child will understand. Or one more committee to chair, with resultant meetings - surely those dear to you will applaud your dedication to duty. Or that co-worker who is so witty; surely there's no harm to your marriage in just hanging out with him/her. Or your teenager who doesn't seem to really want to be around you; surely it's perfectly fine to let him/her spend hours on their own on the phone/at the mall/on the computer. Or your brother/sister/grown child who just plain irritates you; surely they'll 'get the joke' when you needle them at the family holiday. You 'tease' them, about their job, their kids, their faith, their politics, their beliefs and so on. Soon they come to the family dinners less and less. One day they just don't come at all.
Death by inches.
The list is endless; but it's there.
And it's so 'normal'.
And then one day you wake up and find that nobody loves anyone anymore. The little hurts have added up so high that they are like a mountain to get around. And who trusts anybody to really try to 'get around' them anyway? It's been years since it seemed like he/she cared - what's to start it now?
But the grace in all this is that the opposite is also true. Once again, if you look, you can see the Hand of God in this design. For families that grow healthy and strong don't need super human effort either. You needn't win the lottery, buy the brand new car, be a rock star. All you need do is be there. Listen, laugh, love - and forgive. There can even be a lot of mistakes mixed in - families don't care so much as long as there is honesty, humility, and love. Heck, admitting your own mistakes just might ensure that they feel even safer around you; since they won't worry so much about making some of their own...
Families, relationships, and love grow - by inches also. We needn't have a rocket ship to zoom to perfection. Inches are just fine.
The nicest thing, actually, about the reality of inches is that if you fall - you haven't fallen so far after all. And if you advance ahead - it's never so stupendous as to blind you with pride. And if you want to try to win it back - it's not overwhelming. It's inches - slow, steady growth. Small actions that gradually build lives, and relationships, back up. Nothing spectacular, nothing superhuman - just mundane. Just usual, just typical, just normal.
And that seems to be the best measurement of all.
Ashley and Susan
Two women asking the world to not just hope, but to Hope in Love.