Waiting for Lassie

Isn't it enough to know when I'm wrong? Do I have to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again? At least couldn't it be new mistakes? Maybe this is where the phrase "oh grow up" comes from?

Here's the thing.

I was raised on miracles. Really, magic. The big "ah ha" moments that made all the difference. The just in the nick of time triumphs. The San Francisco 49'ers led by Joe Montana in the final two minutes of any game in the 1980's. Or the last five minutes of the Rocky Balboa movies.

Coming at the tail end of a big family, I learned most of my early life lessons by watching television. Or maybe it was just the newest baby sitter on the block and my generation, regardless of the chaos of their homes, were parked in front of this amazing story telling machine.

And unlike life off screen, these stories always wrapped up tidy with a bow in time for dinner.

Take Lassie for example. There wasn't a problem that dog couldn't solve. In the early, tender moments of my life, sitting in front the tube, Lassie did it all. And for heaven's sake, isn't any monkey smarter than a television dog?

Apparently not.

The one hour family drama - which is now probably closer to 39 minutes plus commercial and station breaks - guaranteed time bounded, heart warming, easy moral lessons, reinforced stereotypical platitudes and delivered gratifying resolutions. The bullies got bullied, the bad guys got caught, the parents proved wise and kind.

Otherwise, who'd watch? Much less buy the advertiser's solutions?

If Timmy died in the well in the first episode? Lassie would have never been syndicated. If Dad dumped Mom and ran off with his golf buddy? Wouldn't happen in this tidy world.

All of the characters ended up happy, safe and secure. Unless there was a very peaceful departure of a minor, obviously elderly character of advanced years who drifted off to sleep, eyes gently closing, to the sound of harps and soft focus shots. "She's with Grandpa now." (Which is kind of a scary thing if you think about it. Having never met Grandpa, where the hell did she go?)

So miracles came in the last five minutes. But when trying to apply these classic stories to my life, I ran into some bigger issues. And what I'm still learning today is that waiting for Lassie sets a whole lot of suffering in motion.

First of all there's the whole aspect of trying to decipher how much of the show has gone by? Are we in the first ten minutes of setting the scene? Or are we past the first commercial break where the tension is building? Is this a major plot line? Are these important characters being added to the story? Or simply supporting cast designed to bring some color and interest, but ultimately fading out of view?

What if we're past the second commercial break and this is actually the absolute nadir of the whole shooting match, where certain death, destruction or at least guaranteed social failure, is waggling right in the middle of the screen?

Looking around my life, there is an immediate clue.

I'm not seeing the dog.

I think this means I'm past the halfway mark and that the scene is darkening. Maybe the bottom of the well? It's dark in here and smells pretty funky, which is what one of my teachers said is a guaranteed sign of having one's head up one's backside.

So, no dog and a bad attitude.

And the sponsors? Probably getting nervous about the numbers and asking if this plot line is better for rehab programs or adult diaper sales.

If my life were in French or German, this would probably be okay, since my European cousins seem much more comfortable with the idea that life isn't tidy. And that monkeys are always making bigger messes than dogs can clean up.

I imagine they're sanguine with having the same story arc end again and again in a warp of ambiguity. At least for the grown ups anyway. They've managed to set Tin Tin aside and move on to adult themed conundrums and ambivalence.

No dog, bad attitude, nervous sponsors and no relief from the allies?

Absolutely middle aged and definitely the last fifteen minutes of the show on the horizon.

For one brief moment, I remember again that Lassie isn't coming.

As the credits for my story role by on the screen, I let go of Lassie. I let go again of my story ever being tidy. And remember that with no story, there's no ambivalence or ambiguity, no need for resolution, no tension.

The drama fades. A sense of ease and peace returns.

A time and place before television.

The cat purring on my lap.

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