Where hope goes | Chuck's World

By Chuck Sigars | Aug 20, 2014

“It’ll get better,” I tell these guys, generous with my soothing advice, as if I knew something, as if I had irrefutable evidence that it would, in fact, get better.

But it probably will. Both of these men, my age but a few years behind in the parenting arc, were talking about their daughters, home from college after freshman years spent far away, and nobody seemed happy.

It’s understandable, if not always the case. Still, going away to college is like moving into a halfway house for recovering adolescents.

You get to make decisions and mistakes, endure failures and celebrate successes without the constant supervision of your parental units, even if we do have Skype now. It’s an AP class for adulthood, a head start.

And then you return home for the summer, only because you forgot to come up with options, and now it feels the same but different. Your bedroom is a den. You sleep on a hide-away bed, surrounded by your dad’s exercise equipment. I can see some tension, in certain situations.

But I was talking about the future, and about hope.

I became a parent nearly 30 years ago, and then again five years later. The transition times have mostly passed, and now I sit firmly in the sweet spot of parent-child dynamics.

We can just be grown-ups together, separated only by miles and a generation that seems a few years shy of that, in fact. There’s a blurring of friends in common, and so on. All of this is fun.

My daughter and I talk about many things these days, as equals sometimes, sometimes one or the other pulling ahead in expertise, but our conversations are convivial, and often we talk about movies.

Our tastes vary more than they overlap, but we both tend to set down rules for certain films.

For example, if you can’t quote from “The Godfather” verbatim – and I mean word for word – then you really shouldn’t quote it at all. It’s not dialogue meant to be paraphrased.

Jeff Goldblum can do no wrong.

And we share a strange, powerful attraction and affection for the 1983 film, “The Big Chill.”

Lawrence Kasden’s movie was seminal, in that it gathered 30-something almost-stars of that era, among them William Hurt, Glenn Close, and (of course) Jeff Goldblum, created a back story for them as stock late-1960s college students who were once and remain best of friends, and brought them together with shock and sadness.

One of their group, Alex, perhaps the best and the brightest, had committed suicide.

I can tell you plenty that’s wrong or at least off about this film. For one thing, it celebrates homegeneity as the single source of heat in a cold world, as if a shared past is all it takes to survive.

There’s also no contemporary sense of diversity, which can strike us in 2014 as weird.

These are all white, privileged young people who have a lot of money. I saw the film when I was 10 years younger than the characters, but even when I was in my mid-30s I didn’t know many people like them.

But that’s not why I love this movie, or why my daughter does, although I won’t wander there today. Let’s just say we share a fondness for it.

And, by chance, coincidence, or the universe playing tricks with us, we’d both watched it recently, bringing it to the forefront of some conversations, and making us think we needed to have a longer one, and then Monday came.

If you can believe I was once 19, then I’ll join you for the sake of this: On New Year’s Eve, 1977, I was watching TV with my girlfriend, an HBO showcase featuring stand-up comics from around the country, and this comedian with a thick Russian accent came on stage, left the mic alone, and wandered the audience, working the crowd and improvising with malapropisms and cultural references that sounded even funnier with a foreign accent.

At some point during his performance, or after, I realized it was just a character, part of the act of a wildly funny but all-American comedian, unknown to me or most of the country.

A year later, most of the country and a good part of the world would know who he was.

So I felt a little possessive about Robin Williams, as if I spotted him first, before “Mork and Mindy” and the movies.

And when I saw the comments posted online from my younger friends, following his suicide, I felt the urge to say, “No! He belonged to us,” forgetting for a moment what had happened since 1977.

He belonged to all of us. The younger people remember the movies, “Jumanji” and “Flubber” and “Dead Poets Society,” but then so do I. So do I.

It was my daughter who texted me the news. It was me who texted her later that evening, “Where did Alex’s hope go?”, a quote from “The Big Chill,” knowing she’d understand.

I don’t know where Robin Williams’ hope went, or if he ever had it, or if he struggled through 63 years of darkness, spreading joy, adoring his children, entertaining our troops, making us laugh, looking for something in the sound that happy people make.

I just know that I grieved that night for his pain, and mine and ours. And I found hope in sharing that grief with my daughter, knowing that for me, it got better, and that made it bearable.

Lucky me.

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