Monday, May 24, 2010

Top Five things we learned from LOST

5) Men of Science and Men of Faith can learn to understand each other

Jack was a doctor, a fixer, a man infused with a supernatural ability to heal that defied explanation and obsessed with finding the best way to solve problems. His inflated sense of purpose prevented him from seeing there are ways to look at issues that don’t require questions and answers – neatly solved riddles tied up with bows and editable on Wikipedia. The concept of accepting truths just because you believe them was alien to him. He was a Man of Science that thought the only way to deal with the world and with life was to analyze it, understand it, and fix it. If it couldn’t be analyzed and couldn’t be understood, it was impossible to fix.

Locke was healed by a miracle. He “looked into the eye of this Island, and what [he] saw...was beautiful.” A man of no particular allegiance to science, much less solving problems or answering questions, he was a man of broken faith. He had faith in his father, faith in his girlfriend, faith in his friends – all faiths that were tested and broken at various times in his life – but the greatest unknown and unanswered question came when he first wiggled his toes lying on the beach. The island healed him and he found a real faith in that not seen.

Jack and Locke were in conflict all through the second season over whether pushing the button in the Swan Hatch was necessary. Locke took it on faith from Desmond that pushing the button would control the power of the island. Jack, finding no real reasoning or explanation to it, resisted. Their inability to understand each other and work together to understanding why they were there split the group over and over again. Until finally, as he returned to the island under Locke’s insistence, Jack set aside his need to fix things himself and took on faith in the island.

All things in the world have explanations – and none of them do. All circumstances, experiences, concepts, phenomena are what we make of them. While it’s tempting to discover the anatomical and biological makeup of our neurological systems and be satisfied with the answer, it doesn’t explain how counting to five can save a life. While we can possibly know precisely what’s inside the Cave of Rainbows and Unicorns and learn how it got there, it doesn’t really help us understand what the light is inside us all. We have to use faith in that not seen to live in the world. We can never truly understand all facts and figures, so it requires faith to fill in the blanks and make it more than its own total.

At the same time, we live in a physical world that requires us to deal with life in physical ways. How we breathe, what we eat, where we find shelter, how we escape from dangerous situations, how we stitch wounds, repair bursa sacs, hunt boar, turn off radio jammers – they’re real world problems that have to be addressed by those resourceful, courageous and creative enough to solve them. What we do with those answers and how we live with them requires faith.

Men of Science and Men of Faith – we have to be both.

4) All the Best Cowboys Don’t Have to Have Daddy Issues (or Mommy Issues)

The relationship between parents and children is not an easy one, and the flaws of those raising children do not magically go away. We all have to deal with the mistakes of our pasts or the inadequacies and inexperience we have as humans – but when we decide to take on the responsibility of raising a child our entire beings must be turned over to caring for and nurturing them. This doesn’t mean we give up our lives, goals, interests, dreams and ambitions to focus 100% on them – we shouldn’t focus 100% on anything regardless of how attractive it is. But having a child means your entire life – your past, present and future are now inextricably reflected in the life of that child.

We saw the majority of the characters on LOST have difficulties coping with their own lives due to inadequate relationships with one or more of their parents (more frequently with fathers, it seems, but I’m not certain in the end that distinction is indicative of anything more significant than the fact that it’s easier for fathers to become separated from their children’s upbringing than mothers. Both parents bear equal responsibilities). Jack’s father, Christian was a drunk and a controlling perfectionist – both traits he visited on his son. Both Penny’s and Sun’s fathers were distant, controlling businessmen who cared more about their status and power than their daughters. Hurley’s dad left abruptly for 17 years, triggering his son’s obsession with food. Sawyer’s father killed his mother and then himself, rather than consider the vengeful effect it would have on his young son. Ben’s father blamed him for his wife’s death during childbirth and physically and emotionally abused him. And so on. All these parents chose their own selfish paths, that kept them from fulfilling their responsibilities to their children. These scars led to the tormented lives of the crash survivors.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. Hopefully Claire (and Kate – talk about “My Two Mommies”) turned out to be a good mother to Aaron because of her experiences on the island. Had they lived, Sun and Jin would have been caring parents of Ji Yeon. Assuming Desmond made it back to Penny and little Charlie, their family should be tight knit and healthy as well. They will all deal with their own issues and memories in the years to come, but knowing the damage that can come from absent, uncaring, abusive or controlling parents should stop the cycle. It only ends once, everything else is just progress.

And we should learn from this, too. As a parent, I gladly take active roles in my kids’ lives and encourage their interests. I try to be firm, but understanding of their needs and opinions. I give them room to grow but a place to feel safe. I teach them to care for other people and care about themselves. It’s what we’re supposed to do – what we have to do. Jack felt taking care of the island was something he was “meant to do” – that sense of parental responsibility was just as strong and instinctual to him as it was in his relationship with his sideways son, David. It’s so important and so obvious.

3) You’re the only one who can give yourself a Tabula Rasa

All the characters on LOST were flawed in some way. A list could be made a mile long of each of the characters’ personal failings, guilts, losses, crimes, and weaknesses. Jacob chose the candidates precisely because they were flawed as he was – possibly these specific people because of issues with their parents, possibly for other reasons. They all had baggage they’ve carried with them for years that remains unresolved and unaddressed.

Sawyer was obsessed with finding the con man responsible for his parents’ deaths. So obsessed, in fact, he took on the con man’s name and persona himself to better understand what it was like to be a con man. And then became one himself. He fathered a daughter he didn’t care about (at the time) and wound up in jail. Eventually the trail of Anthony Cooper led to Australia where he murdered an innocent man in cold blood. His entire life he refused to think himself worthy enough to just be James Ford and find a reasonable, productive pursuit. Like many children, he unnecessarily bore the guilt himself for his parents’ flaws and wore it like a second skin. Only through a leadership role on the island, both with the survivors and in the Dharma Initiative, did he begin to understand that there were better things to do with his life.

Ana Lucia hunted down and killed the man who was responsible for killing her unborn child. This caused her to leave the police force and run away to Sydney, unwilling to bear the responsibility for her actions. Mr. Eko was a drug lord but blamed himself for his brother, Yemi’s death. He could not let go of what he felt was his violent nature. Neither could Sayid – for all the torture and murder he committed over his lifetime he was unable to reconcile his actions with his better nature, that of a good man. He couldn’t let go of his past and start again with a fresh clean slate.

We all have baggage and pasts. In truth, we could all make lists a mile long about ourselves and our failures and regrets in life. How we deal with these trials and challenges that come to us is how we grow as people. Acknowledging a weakness, taking responsibility for a failing, apologizing and making amends for an injury – this is how we put these events in the past and move on. That’s how we are able to really live.

But we can’t wait for people to do this for us. Ben Linus was a dangerous man who did many terrible things in his life but he couldn’t wait for other people to exonerate or forgive him. He couldn’t rely on Jacob considering him “special” – when he wasn’t – to give his life meaning. “What about me??” Ben demanded, and Jacob replied, “What about you?” Ben couldn’t understand then that he didn’t need Jacob’s blessing or attention to be special or to walk away from his demons – he had to do it himself.

We have to have the strength and courage to wipe our slate clean. We can put the past behind us – not to be forgotten, but to be learned from and to remember in times of crisis. We can forgive ourselves for things we’ve done before moving on. Everyone can be redeemed, everyone can start over.

2) There’s No Place Like Home – wherever you make it

You’d think having lived with The Wizard of Oz for oh these 70 years or so people would have learned. But LOST observed that there was still a need to understand just what “home” was all about.

From the moment Oceanic 815 crashed on the island, most everyone was obsessed – rightfully so – with going “home”. As the series progressed, we saw that few of these survivors really had anything at “home” worth returning for. Some, like Locke and Rose, had their injuries or illnesses healed by the island and actually resisted efforts (or at least expressed their reluctance) to returning home.

The Man in Black’s only motivation was to “go home”. In “Across the Sea” we learned he really had no true home, having arrived on the island before being born and having no memory or knowledge of other lands. To him, home was an abstraction It was a concept of someplace different from where he was at the time, to where he was being confined by Jacob. He had no home, nothing to look back to, nothing to find where he could be contented and safe. Home, for him, held no promise of a better life – only one where he could destroy and cause chaos. He was cursed to be forever lost.

Rose and Bernard set the best example. After being more or less abandoned by the rest of the survivors and having no real desire to return to the mainland they made a home where they were. Indeed, their home was each other. Around the one they felt most comfortable and loved, that’s where they built their home… They refused to get involved with Sawyer and Juliet’s attempt to stop Jack from detonating the nuke, and took a risk helping Desmond out of the well – almost at the cost of their own lives. But that was because it threatened the peace and sanctity of their “home” – each other.

Jack and many others finally learned, at the end, that what they were searching for was a home – a place where they could be comfortable, and safe, and free from the concerns of the world. Jack accepted protectorship of the island and made it his (brief) home, but the home he finally ended up with was with the other survivors.

We are constantly on the move, always looking for ways to improve our lives and where we are. In the process we isolate ourselves behind computers, sports, games, drugs, alcohol, sex, laziness, food, indifference, pride – all distractions from simply living our lives with each other the best we can. Reaching out to our families, appreciating our friends, understanding that the more we search for “home” the less likely we are to see it was under our noses all the time.

Which leads us to…

1) If you can’t learn to Live Together, you will Die Alone

There are many phrases and saying in our popular culture that refer to our need for community. One that comes quickly to mind is “No man is an island,” a phrase that has particular resonance with LOST. And island is the epitome of isolation, a small patch of land often surrounded by millions of gallons of water and thousands of miles from the next patch of land. A person alone on an island is completely isolated from the outside world. Even if he possesses complete electronic and satellite contact with civilization, he is still mostly alone.

Jack tells the survivors “If we can't live together, we're going to die alone.” Throughout the series, the survivors and those who came later banded together in mutual dependency. Back in the real world, this was something many of them could not do. They shied away from relationships or found ways to sabotage the ones they had. Locke lost Helen when he couldn’t stop obsessing over his father. Boone’s overprotectiveness and attraction to Shannon kept them from developing a true sibling relationship. Michael was unable to establish a relationship with Walt in his formative years, only truly getting to know his son in their brief time on the island. Even after leaving, Michael’s guilt over his murders of Ana Lucia and Libby and the betrayal of the rest of the survivors built a barrier between himself and Walt that he never repaired. Kate was constantly on the run and made no attempts to build relationships with anyone until the crash. Hurley was convinced his weight caused the deaths of two people in a deck collapse which forced him into a mental institution. Even after leaving and winning the lottery he was convinced his association with others and attempts to do good with the winnings cursed him. Sawyer’s desire for vengeance kept him from letting anyone get close.

Being in a situation where our very survival requires us relying on others is natural. While some of the crash survivors like Shannon were very reluctant to help out, assuming they would be rescued soon, eventually all had to chip in or be shunned. Hurley tricks Sawyer into thinking his selfish and conniving ways were going to get him banished, causing the former con man to do “good deeds” in order to help others and get back in their good graces.

But more than simple survival, LOST proved to us that we can’t go through life alone. We need other people to live. Our lives have no real meaning if we have no one to share them with, and having people around to trust and confide in helps us better understand ourselves and the world around us.

When we choose to isolate ourselves, we purposefully miss a vital understanding – that we don’t exist as a single person, really. We are not truly an island, we are the sum total of our own experiences and the experiences of those we come in contact with. We learn from our interactions with others. Our children, our parents, our friends and lovers. When we pull into our own shells because of guilt and pain we hurt them as much as we hurt ourselves. Refusing to forgive and acknowledge our own sins prevents us from allowing those who love us to forgive us as well. We are never able to find true rest and comforting sense of home until we allow ourselves to let go.

We take pride at times in believing we know everything that is important about ourselves, that only we know what’s best for us. We alone have the ability to fix what’s wrong with us, or fix the problems that come along. We don’t need help from anyone, we can take care of ourselves. Other times we become blinded by great lights, lights of looking too closely to the sun and attempting to find reflections of our own greatness. The resulting wounds can never truly heal without assistance and reassurance by those around us.

We learned many things from LOST, but I believe these are the five most important lessons. They all carefully interrelate, so understanding one can help to understand them all. It comes down to this – love yourself and love others as yourself. One of the greatest truths in life, and it only took 121-1/2 hours of television to bring the message home.