You know how sometimes it is really uncanny how everything seems to colliding?
I have been watching Grey’s Anatomy after reading Shonda Rhime’s Year of yes – particularly the number of times she referenced Cristina Yang:
“She stands face-to-face with the man she almost destroyed herself loving. She’d once lost herself in his orbit, revolving around him, desperately in need of his sun. She’d made herself smaller to accommodate his greatness. Now she has surpassed him. And he is paying his respects…I realize why Cristina’s journey can end. I realize why it is time to let this character go and be happy for her. Cristina has learned what she needs to know. Her toolbox is full. She has learned to not let go of the pieces of herself that she needs in order to be what someone else wants. She’s learned not to compromise. She’s learned not to settle. She’s learned, as difficult as it is, how to be her own sun.”
“During my darkest hours, my quietest saddest moments, my loneliest times, writing Cristina Yang fortified me.”
“Cristina Yang. I gave her my ambivalence about marriage. I gave her my passion for work. I gave her my love for something greater than any romance, something that draws her focus more than any guy—a creative genius floating forever out of reach that she will never stop trying to capture.”
“Cristina Yang made me brave. I thank her for appearing out of the ether.”
I mean, how can a writer be fortified by an imaginary character she herself has created? It turns out even I, as a viewer can be fortified by an imaginary character someone else has created.
Today, I caught an episode where Cristina Yang’s husband was trying to tell her why they should sign their divorce papers:
“We should never have gotten married in the first place. When we did, we took something beautiful and we put it in this box. For the last two years, all we have done is beaten against those walls and teared each other apart.”
I laughed. A seemingly random episode that occurs after watching something straight for nine seasons, serves to reaffirm a string of thoughts which have been the most salient in my head.
It is not about marriage, love, or anything. For me it is everything. To have been putting myself and other people in boxes. To fit myself into people’s boxes. To make people fit in mine. To stay in boxes out of love, loyalty, obligation. It reduces me, it reduces other people, it reduces the world.
All I am now, all I seek to do, in the increasingly blurred lines across my work and myself, is to try to get myself and other people out of boxes.
If I didn’t watch Grey’s Anatomy I would have appreciated “When breath becomes air” a lot less. I have found myself unexpectedly familiar with his depiction of his surgical resident days and his neurosurgeries:
“The pain of failure had led me to understand that technical excellence was a moral requirement. Good intentions were not enough, not when so much depended on my skills, when the difference between tragedy and triumph was defined by one or two millimeters.”
When faced with his diagnosis:
“We would carry on living, instead of dying.”
On moral duty:
“Moral duty has weight, things that have weight have gravity, and so the duty to bear mortal responsibility pulled me back into the operating room.”
On his respect and gratitude towards his doctor, Emma – why it is important to be a human being above your job:
“She had always kept this part of my identity in mind, even when I couldn’t. She had done what I had challenged myself to do as a doctor years earlier: accepted mortal responsibility for my soul and returned me to a point where I could return to myself…Emma hadn’t given me back my old identity. She’d protected my ability to forge a new one.”
Why he wrote the book:
“When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”
His wife, on their love and marriage:
“I expected to feel only empty and heartbroken after Paul died. It never occurred to me that you could love someone the same way after he was gone, that I would continue to feel such love and gratitude alongside the terrible sorrow, the grief so heavy that at times I shiver and moan under the weight of it. Paul is gone, and I miss him acutely nearly every moment, but I somehow feel I’m still taking part in the life we created together.”
So here it is for me. Life and love is not about escaping boxes, but getting out of the ones that reduce us in order to be in the ones that fortify us. What used to fortify us may start to stifle us when we grow out of them, and that is time to let them go.
When we watch something become, when we watch ourselves become, that becoming requires a great deal of loss in order for a new form to take shape.
With every end it brings new beginnings; with great loss, I am made aware of great love.