The Lessons We Can Learn from Glee!

(Warning: Spoilers for Season 1 below)

I’ve mentioned this show in my blog a number of times in the past. I keep coming back to it for the simple reason that I will always think it is one of the most uniquely innovative shows that defines our generation.

As every episode of the show is unveiled for public consumption, it just continues to keep giving me more reasons to love it.

Their interpretations of seemingly ordinary songs makes for a full and constantly played and replayed playlist on my iTunes. As an ensemble, they sound terrific. Lea Michelle’s voice is awesomely strong, powerful and evocative. Even without video accompaniment, hearing her sing about her loves, joys and heartaches makes me feel the exact same things she feels.

Their story lines are contemporary and genuine. Teenage pregnancy, discrimination, broken families and the dynamics between high school kids with the classic mean cheerleader girls, popular jocks and the misfits take me back to my own high school days and remind me of the same pain and angst every high school kid must go through to build character.

But perhaps what really differentiates this show from any other high school flick is how almost every episode of Glee! can make you feel like you’ve actually learned something from the show. In my mid-thirties, I actually sometimes feel that this show makes me stronger and gives me perspective on my own life.

I haven’t started with Season 2, though I’ve seen and heard a lot of spoilers. One of the season’s episodes tackles mortality, faith and religion. If you think about it, the youth today are growing up with a much less firm grip on spiritual fundamentals. Many today question the existence of a God (in whatever name or form He is referred to) who rules over us all. Many prefer to believe that there is no God, and that our mortal life on earth is the only life there is.

But the show reminds us that in the grip of a mortal life filled with grief, pain, hardship and disappointments, we can’t go on believing that this is all there is to it. At the end of it all, there is something bigger than all of us that has a promise of bringing back balance and giving us consolation for all that we go through.

In Season 1, one of my favorite episodes tackles the issue of teen pregnancies in America. It paints a realistic picture of what happens to teen relationships today and how they regard and behave towards sex.

These days, sex among teens is as commonplace as breathing air. A girl can have multiple sex partners, and can have casual sex without a second’s thought. You lose your virginity at a relatively older age, you’re seen as a prude.

It’s so different from how sex was with my generation. We were all mortally afraid of teenage pregnancy. So we either staunchly waited until (at least) College, or better yet after school altogether; or took great precautions to be extremely cautious. The few who eluded good sense of caution, ran out on luck and got knocked up… were frowned upon and shunned, cast out as “loose” and lacking in morals.

In Glee, Quinn was cast out of her home; cast out of cheerleading and frowned upon by her former friends.

So maybe yes, sex is commonplace, but good sense to elude caution is still frowned upon.

Quinn’s consolation comes in the form of a bunch of campus misfits who’ve found a home and solace in each other. They remind us that really, regardless of what comes to us in life, we can get by with a little help from loving and supporting friends who will be there no matter what.

As a general rule, I like happy movies. I like shows that paint a picture perfect life, or shows that have a happily ever after. In my thirties, I’ve stopped wanting to see shows that paint a too-accurate portrayal of real life and all the pains that come along with it. My life is complicated enough, and too real enough — that when I sit back and relax to watch a show, I want to be transported to another world for a brief moment in time, in revel in stories that give me a tiny lift in my heart.

I think perhaps, Glee is my exception… in a paradoxical way.

On one hand, it’s happy-happy, feel good, lalalala singing all the way. Almost every episode ends on a high note.

On the other hand, it’s not too far from what has become real life today.

A gay couple raising a daughter, broken families, single parent households, teen pregnancies, performance-enhancing drugs, racial and status discrimination… what happens out there in real life, name it – it’s all somehow inside Glee.

But just like life, I think what makes this show so special is the feeling of hope it leaves behind. Behind every struggle is a group of zany, crazy, insane obsessive-compulsive weirdos who’ll never abandon you to the wolves.

In simple terms, shit happens. But at least you don’t have to deal with your shit alone.

Day 46. Watching my Father Die, Religion and Pop Culture

While watching an episode of NCIS last night featuring a woman who witnessed a murder happening next door, I suddenly started having flashbacks of watching my father die.

On a separate occasion months before he passed away, I also remember one particular episode of Criminal Minds where Penelope Garcia rushes to the aid of an assaulted man, and holds him in her arms as he dies. She says something, “One minute he was alive, the next he was just… not.

While watching dad die, that line did pop up in my head for a brief moment in time. I recall his nurse also telling me then “look, he’s taking his last breath.” I don’t know how she knew that, maybe it comes from years of experience.

I didn’t feel as morose about that thought back then. But the flashbacks I had last night were alarming.

Yes, Penelope said it right. One minute he was alive and breathing, the next he was just… not alive anymore.

Literally watching life leave a human body is profound.

In Harry Potter, JK Rowling creates a distinction between people who have seen death as it happens, and those who have not.

Harry Potter: What are they?
Luna Lovegood: They’re called Thestrals. They’re quite gentle, really… But people avoid them because they’re a bit…
Harry Potter: Different. But why can’t the others see them?
Luna Lovegood: They can only be seen by people who’ve seen death.

Watching dad die raises a plethora of new questions about mortality and life after death.

With a Roman Catholic upbringing, surrounded by nuns and Jesuit priests in my most formative years, not believing in heaven and hell is unlikely to happen. I’ve always had faith that these “places” actually exist.

As an adult, I’ve created a slight redefinition of who goes to heaven, and who goes to hell.

While the stiff and unrelenting Catholic Church strictly espouse all their traditional, conventional and outdated rules and regulations supposedly set by a very harsh, judgmental God; I believe my God is a loving and merciful God.

Blame the Jesuits, if I believe that when you’ve already exhausted all you can to make an honest and clean living, that stealing from rich people to feed your starving family is forgivable and does not merit a soul going to hell.

On this premise, then I always knew in my heart my God will welcome my father into heaven.

I believed that… until he actually passed away. Seeing the frailty of mortal human life, watching life leave his body, watching him take his final breath, it made me ask questions.

Where is he going?

Is he going anywhere at all?

If there’s no heaven and hell, then did he just truly, unequivocally cease to exist?

And if heaven and hell do exist, did my father just go to heaven?

What if he was sent to hell?

And in heaven, does he remember his life? The ones he left behind?

Does he “watch over us” as everyone keeps saying?

If he is “just around me and in me”, how come I can’t feel his presence anywhere?

Why does it feel like he really is completely gone, and I can’t even feel his spirit anymore?

What really happens when a person dies?

I guess I’ll never know.

It’s been a month and a half since dad’s death. The intensity of the emotions has gone, and in its place is some kind of calm and resigned acceptance.

Yup, life has gone on.

My mom and younger brother (who lived with my dad) are rediscovering a new kind of “normal”. Especially for mom, the time that passes doesn’t come without pain and the feeling of loss, but thank God for this invention called “work”, time passes more quickly and the mind is not left idle.

In the midst of all unanswered questions about what happens when we all die, and where my dad now is, I suppose I’ll just take comfort in a song that’s brought me comfort for many years now since I heard it the first time.

Jars of Clay wrote this song for a good friend of theirs who had already passed away from HIV. Before his death, he confided his fears about dying and what happens to him after.

In death as in life, we always pray that we won’t go through the journey alone. And this is the balm my heart needs to reassure me that in his death, my father is not alone.

Be still let your hand melt into mine.
The part of me that breathes when you breathe is losing time.
I can’t find the word to say I’ll never say goodbye.

I’ll fly with you through the night so
you know I’m not letting go.
I’m not letting go.
My tears like rain fill up the sky.
Oh my love I’m not letting go, I won’t let you go.

I saw the host of silent angels waiting on their own.
Knowing that all the promises of faith
come alive when you see home.
Hold still and let your hand melt into mine.

And I’ll fly with you through the night
so you know I’m not letting go.
I’m not letting go.
My tears like rain fill up the sky.
Oh my love I’m not letting go, I won’t let you go.

Shed your heart and your breath and your pain and fly.

Now you’re alive.
I’ll fly with you through the night so
you know I’m not letting go.
I’m not letting go.
Tears like rain fill up the sky.
Oh my love I’m not letting go, I won’t let you go.
I’m not letting go, I won’t let you go.