Every once in a while, a television show comes along that captures life so perfectly and beautifully that you savor every minute and can’t wait to get home and watch more. And when that show is over, you cry. And then you go out and buy the book, the movie, and the various soundtracks they release each season.
For me, that show has been Friday Night Lights. We finished watching it last night, and I have to say, it was the best series I could have chosen to watch at this point in my life. It wasn’t just because it had a compelling storyline – between the prison sentences and the falling in love and the racial tension and the class issues and the gender issues, it was hard to turn away. But that wasn’t it. It’s because the series was so brutally true.
It wasn’t true in the sense that these things could have ever happened. High school coaches and counselors aren’t called up and offered jobs at college campuses. People don’t murder stalkers and dump their bodies in the river. Sure, these things happen, I assume, but they aren’t the truth. The show wasn’t factually true. It was emotionally true.
I especially watched Tami Taylor as she went through the show. From coach’s wife to career woman, new mom to community activist she handled each situation with patience and grace and very rarely lost her cool. Her and Eric worked together to face the problems that their family – and their team “family” – encountered. They were, in fact, a team in and of each other. And they made it work. They chose to keep making it work. Every time.
I started watching the series in mid-September, at a time that was deeply tumultuous in my life. I had almost made it through my first year of marriage, which was a rough one. I had been terrified that I was going to lose myself and my individuality and my activism in this marriage. I was afraid that once we started buying the house and having the kids that I would not have time for other pursuits. Before that, I was even afraid that I would lose myself to cleaning and cooking. I was also questioning whether or not I wanted to continue to be a teacher, after feeling completely beaten down the year before. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue to live in the suburbs for the rest of my life. I was thinking that I wanted to move to the city and continue my writing and activism full time. And I wasn’t terribly sure Tim and I could make it work on such divergent paths.
I watched Tami and Eric closely. I had been told that their relationship was one of the best examples pop culture had to offer. At first, I wasn’t impressed. She was a stay-at-home mom who cooked and cleaned and hosted all of the football BBQs. Sure, she quipped and complained, but she did it. However, as the series progressed, she changed. She took high-powered jobs and still managed to be there for her family. She, like her husband, helped students individually find their places in the world past football, past high school. She fought for what was right, losing her job in the process. And when it was her turn to take on a job that meant a lot to her, after 18 years of being the coach’s wife, she wasn’t afraid to say so.
I learned so much from Tami Taylor, and so much from this year. I am an activist, but I much prefer small-scale activism to larger protests, marches, and other things. Like Tami, there is no greater joy for me than talking to a student and seeing that light bulb moment. Not when they get the material, but when they realize they have the power to change the course of their lives. While I have had a wonderful time with larger-scale activism and writing, it doesn’t compare to that light bulb. And when you’re passionate about what you do, that moment comes more and more often. And opportunities open up. And life opens up.
I also learned that it is possible to be consumed by your family and by supporting your husband and still make a real and tangible difference in your community. And it is possible to have your turn later on. You don’t have to do everything all at once. And you certainly don’t have to be a writer-activist living in the city to do good and important things.
For the first time in a long time, I feel comfortable with what I’m doing. Comfortable with the marriage, with the house in the suburbs, with the children, with being a teacher. I want all of that in my life. I don’t necessarily want all the rest of it – the writing, the activism, the city life – which was what I thought I wanted for the entire past year.
This isn’t saying that I want to give it all up or that I’ll never write another article again. I’ll continue to write here because I love it, and I’ll publish things elsewhere when I feel I need to. But I’m not driven by that kind of life any more. I’m driven to make a difference in my community, with my students, with my family.
In short, Friday Night Lights took a fear that if I don’t do it now it’ll never get done away. And it gave me permission to genuinely appreciate where my life is headed, knowing I have time to do everything I want to down the road.
In short, the show helped me realize that I am, without a doubt, happy.
Clear eyes, full hearts. Can’t lose.