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Growing in appreciation

| Monday, December 7, 2015

Over the past couple of weeks, I enjoyed Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” on Netflix.

Initially, “Master of None” didn’t capture my attention. But in the end, I enjoyed the series mostly because its plotlines made me think. The show tackled many subjects, from racial stereotypes to parenting roles. But above all, I think the romantic relationship between Aziz Ansari’s Dev and Noël Wells’ Rachel was the lens through which the show most succeeded.

At its heart, the show challenges the traditional conceptions and language that influence our decision-making. The show succeeds not by telling us what to do, but by thoughtfully re-framing the things we tell ourselves will make us happy.

One of the show’s strongest points occurs near the end of the first season as Dev and Rachel attend a wedding. There we watch the exchange of vows between two of their acquaintances, Andrea and Larry. Two particularly memorable lines emerge:

“Andrea…I’ve never had any doubts, fears or regrets ever since [we met].”

“Larry…every time I see your face, I feel this rush of happiness and excitement that this is the person to spend my life with. I can’t wait to have that feeling for the rest of my life.”

If these lines made you cringe, you are not alone. A panning camera captured other wedding guests’ half-smiles and forced gazes that illuminated their own fear, disbelief and doubt. Andrea and Larry’s wedding bliss had clearly exposed the tenuous states of their own relationships.

In his subsequent narration, Dev gives voice to these emotions: “That exists? No doubts, no fears, nothing? Come on!”

Given the course of his relationship with Rachel throughout the season, Dev’s comments are not surprising. Their relationship had many moments of joy. But these moments did not exclude petty fights, hurtful words and disappointment.

In contrast to Andrea and Larry’s stated vows, disagreements over cleanliness or the challenges of distance give Dev and Rachel fears and doubts about their commitment and attraction to one another. The real stresses and challenges of their relationship lead them to realize that their commitment to one another is not always a rush of excitement and happiness.

Speaking to his Dad later about his future with Rachel, Dev says, “It’s intense, you know? … Whoever you’re dating now could be who you end up with. It’s a big decision, it’s hard!”

Of course, it would be unfair to discount the real pressure Dev feels in this situation. Relationships are a big commitment. But what becomes clear is that Dev has difficulty accepting Rachel’s vulnerabilities and imperfections. It scares him to think he will make an eternal commitment to another person who may not be perfect or able to give him a constant rush of emotion and feeling.

How many times have we, too, been deceived into thinking that happiness and passionate feelings should last forever and that the loss of those feelings means it is time to search for greener pastures? Struggles create these very real temptations in our jobs, in our friendships, in marriages and in life.

Despite how many times we are reminded to the contrary, we sometimes deceive ourselves into thinking that struggle and doubt are markers of the fact that the wrong people are in our lives. This is not to suggest, of course, that struggle and doubt are inherently good or should be enthusiastically embraced.

Rather, perhaps situations like these should invite us to look holistically, not just at others’ weaknesses but also at our own shortcomings. What or when do we not see rightly? What if we thought about how much others choose to be with us despite our own shortcomings? What if we thought about how much God chooses to be with us?

This, I would like to suggest, might lead to a deeper appreciation for what we have already been given — in our lives, relationships and our faith. This gratitude may not be the final solution, but it may be a start.

At the recent canonization mass of Fr. Junipero Serra, Pope Francis remarked, “Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven.” At the beginning of this Year of Mercy, I would submit that our mission is to forgive others of the responsibility for determining our happiness.

But this doesn’t mean lowering our standards toward life or other people. Perhaps we just need to use different standards.

What if we were to judge our actions, relationships and lives by whether they draw us deeper into holiness? We might finally rely not on our own misinformed desires, but grow in appreciation for the ways in which God’s actions through others invite us into a reality we could have never dreamed for ourselves.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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