Thursday, April 3, 2014
Negotiating the "New Normal": LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX and the Rest of Us
Somebody--maybe it was my older brother, Richard?--told us about the BBC series Last Tango in Halifax, a six-episode show we recently completed (via Netflix discs). (Link to BBC information about the show. I see on the site that a second season is scheduled to begin in late June this year.) It's a wonderful (not flawless--just wonderful) series with one of the best casts, top to bottom, that I've ever seen in anything. Fans of MI-5 (a.k.a Spooks) will recognize Nicola Walker, who was terrific in that show, as well--and, of course, the great Derek Jacobi, whom I've seen often. (He was Claudius in Kenneth Branagh's film of Hamlet and has been in countless other films. I also saw him onstage years ago in Washington DC in Breaking the Code.)
The show's about a complicated family (is there another kind?)--a pair of high-school sweethearts, both of whom married others, meet up again decades later (both spouses are dead) via Facebook. And as they draw together, their own families begin to ... act out? All sorts of issues emerge: adolescent anger, spousal strife, parent-teen relations, sexual identity, sex itself, the role of politics in a relationship, and on and on.
Anyway, as I was watching (and weeping throughout) the final Season 1 episode last night, I was thinking about how so much of life involves negotiating the "new normal" in our lives. There are many obvious instances of this--from home to school, from elementary to middle school, from middle school to high school, from high school to college or career, from job to job, house to house to town, town to town, from single life to married life, from that to parenthood, from parenthood to grandparenthood, from work to retirement, from life to death. We're constantly finding ourselves confronting a "new normal."
But those are just the obvious ones. Think about the "new normal" you must negotiate when you lose a friend? Or fall out of love? (Or someone falls out of love with you?) Or get an illness you know you're not going to recover from? Or learn that your parents are going to divorce? Or learn that the dreams you had are just not going to come true? Or discover that the career you prepared for is horrible? Or learn that the talent(s) you have are just not sufficient? Or ... ?
Of course, there are more sanguine aspects of this, too, aren't there? You're alone; you fall in love; the other person falls in love with you, too. You lose a job; find another one; you love it. A bitter relationship sweetens. A son or daughter arrives, becomes the sunrise in your home. Someone dear reemerges from the mists of the past. You discover a talent you didn't even know you had--or knew you had but didn't care about ... and now you do.
Whatever the case, things don't ever stay the same--not for long. "Normal" is fragile, evanescent.
As I watched the choreography of the characters in Last Tango in Halifax, I thought about how each of them was continually having to adjust to a "new normal." And I thought about how our own ability to do so--to adjust, to accept the flux in the world, in our lives--is one measure--or predictor--of our happiness. If we cannot adapt to the new normal, we will be miserable--temporarily for certain; permanently is a possibility.
There are, of course, limits for all of us. Even if we have a row of bright chameleon genes on a chromosome, even if we are as flexible as a Bolshoi ballerina, we all have limits, don't we? Times when anger, depression, despair, and other debilitating emotions prevent us from accepting or adjusting to what is new and normal in our lives.
And that, again, is one of the reasons I loved Last Tango. Some of the characters--just like you, like me--faced changes that simply overwhelmed them. And watching their fierce negotiations with their new world was wrenching--and illuminating.