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G.K. Chesterton and “This is Us”

February 15, 2017


My wife and I recently began watching the T.V. hit, This is Us. A profoundly textured display of relationships, family life, and the interwoven reality of life. The show begins with the realization of a couple who are expecting triplets, yet sadly lose a child in the process of birth. With broken hearts and a twist of fate the couple adopts an abandoned child from the hospital before they leave with their own children. What ensues is, I think, one of the greatest displays of how we are effected and providentially journeying through life as both saints and sinners. 

One cannot help but fall in love with the main couple who throughout the show offer their own selflessness for their children and indeed try to raise them in a home of love and relative comfort and prosperity. Even though the viewer can feel the intensity with which they love their children, as the story unfolds, regardless of the continual outpouring of love, the children still suffer with their own inadequacies, often blaming the parents in some way. The adopted child is an African American whose been taken in by a Caucasian couple and raised in a world where he is trying to find who he is and where he fits in. The daughter struggles with her weight and self-image. And the other son craves the attention of his parents who are often more focused on the other two children as their needs seem more pressing. In private conversation, you learn of the parents struggle to balance the love they give for each child yet are continually learning the process of being a successful parent. 

The beauty of the show is that while some might scoff at the fact that is was having so many kids to take care of that caused the downtrodden emotions of the kids, you can’t help but feel that each child is needed, each has their place in the world, and without one of them there would be a vacuum which needed to be filled. As the story unfolds you learn more about the family, their struggles, and how it is that they try as a family to swim through the torrent of human life. G.K. Chesterton once quipped that it is in the family that one learns how to deal with the world, saying that a large family offers a mosaic of personalities from which you can’t hide but rather must face head-on and learn how best to charitably live with it. It seems that this show is an exploration into that very concept.

I’ve always snickered at the concept of having less children so that parents can love them more. I can attest to the very real magic that occurs with each child that my wife and I have had, it is as if something reached into my chest and literally expanded my heart. Now there isn’t just one chamber of love to share among each of my kids, rather there are now six chambers where there was only one selfish chamber to begin with, one for my wife and one for each of my children. Does this mean that family life is always going to be perfect if you are open to more love in your life? Of course not. But that’s the beauty of it, love isn’t meant to be nice and neat. Nor is it meant to be some quaint observance of peace and quiet. Love is chaos. Love is a wrecking ball that comes smashing into your egotism. Love is sacrifice.

One of the greatest moments of the show occurred during a scene of the wife having an emotional meltdown during the last stage of her pregnancy. As any rational human being would know, having a child in your stomach who’s draining all of your energy and sapping any idea of always ‘looking good’, would be incredibly difficult. And if we’re being honest, would eventually drive up the emotions. So, at a certain point she had had enough and the target unfortunately became her husband. As the story unfolds the husband is out with his friend who invited him to go golfing. As they are looking at clubs to purchase a few of the other men quip about how golf gets them out of the house and away from the nightmarish scene at home. After hearing the other men, the main husband suddenly dons a look of pity on them. Finally, he had had enough and goes on to say that even though his wife is near ‘possessed’, he still can’t help but want to be home with her, by her side, and work through whatever it is that she needs to work through with her. That’s what love is. It is embracing the darkness of the other and rather than running for the hills, holding the hand of the beloved on their terms regardless of the pain of self-neglect. Just as Christ came into the muck of sinfulness, embraced it, and washed it away with the sacrifice of his very self. 

Each character reveals ways in which our past might affect how we see the world and the ways in which we try our best to set that world aright. Hurtful words, moments of neglect whether real or imagined, or the private moments with each other where just the right words are said and the feelings of neglect are washed away with something as simple as a loving embrace, can echo down the years of our life in a very tangible way. This is Us reveals that while we all have our own struggles, and that love isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, it is the consistent disregard of oneself that ultimately brings us happiness. Chesterton was right to compare marriage and family life to a battle field and yet into a world of wonder. The constant tug and push of family life ought not to act as a deterrent for others to partake, rather it ought to be viewed as the very alchemy that brings about the true magic of love.