By Craig Joseph
Garden State used to be part of my DVD collection. And why not? It perfectly captured a season of life that I – and many twenty-somethings –experienced: the moment beyond the safe college haven when one has to figure out career options, explore romantic possibilities, and work through some familial issues.
I got it. Though my clan was suicide-free and I wasn’t over-medicated, many questions rang true. Was my emotional stoicism and wariness of intimacy related to my upbringing? Did I have to live far away to avoid being pulled into roles I didn’t want to play? Was Thomas Wolfe correct in suggesting that “you can’t go home again?”
During my early thirties, though, I sold that puppy on Amazon. I can’t remember why. Possibly, I needed to subsidize my glorious existence as a starving artist in Chicago. More likely, as selling a beloved DVD is like abandoning a child, the film no longer resonated. I’d been in therapy, worked through some things, and Largeman’s angst had perhaps lost its lustre.
But, if you’re reading this blog and you bought that DVD from cjoseph41, I want it back.
There was something very sweet about watching Garden State from my current vantage point: approaching 40, living back in my hometown (and even in my childhood home, with my parents for a spell), surrounded by my younger siblings. I’ve begun to wonder if it’s one of those films that will mean new things to me in different seasons.
Because what popped out to me this time is a very unflashy scene between Largeman and his father, capped off with the simple affirmation, “You and I are gonna be alright.” My twenty-something self would have vehemently denied the possibility of my thirty-seven year old self’s life. I’m happy in Canton, Ohio. Difficult episodes in Joseph family history have been survived and overcome. We all are learning to act with a greater measure of grace and mercy toward one another – and ourselves. We even returned intact from a family vacation to the Outer Banks; we were confined to an island for a week and it was nothing like Lord of the Flies. In short, we are alright.
What a lovely place to arrive at, not only because of the destination, but because of the journey. And so, I’m learning patience as I see my younger brother and sisters struggle with the gap between the happy idyll of family they have in their minds and the actuality of who we are. I’m reminded of Largeman’s words: “Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.” Time will bring them to the place where they are grateful for who we are – broken people trying to love each other – instead of bummed about who we never became.
And what of the day when we all have adult children of our own whose heads and hearts we screw with (albeit in new and more creative ways than our own parents)? I hope that Ill be able to hear and receive hard truth as graciously as Ian Holm, as my own parents. Maybe so, maybe not. Perhaps I’ll pop in Garden State and see how it instructs me.