Having just (well, on Sunday) sat through the most gut-wrenchingly emotional episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition I’ve seen so far, which had me reduced to a quivering wreck for the entire middle part of the day, I thought I’d try to explain what it means, or maybe what it symbolises, to me. I think I’m doing this for me, actually, to clarify in my own mind why this type of show – which on one level is so overtly commercial – can have such a profound effect on me, time after time.
This particular episode centred on a guy called Rodney, a young college student with a talent and a passion for basketball. It was his entire life. He lived in a deprived, mainly black neighbourhood (I think it was called Sutton, but I can’t remember the city) in a house he shared with his parents and brother. His girlfriend hung out a lot, but didn’t live there. They were poor, but they were also good people.
Rodney’s life - and those of everyone around him – changed dramatically as he walked home one day from a game. He was shot four times in the back by a local gang member who mistook him for someone else. The guy that shot him apparently leaned over him as he lay on the ground, almost dead, and said “sorry, man”… then left him lying there. He survived, but he survived as a paraplegic, and he’s now trying to rebuild his life from a wheelchair.
After the shooting, his girlfriend moved in and became his fiancé (god, what a sign of love, and faith) and his Aunt came to help, along with her two children. That's eight people in total. But it gets worse… they got a grant to carry out some adjustments to the house so he could get around in his wheelchair, and used a local contractor. The contractor took down half the outside walls and most of the roof, then ran off with the grant money, leaving a house half the size it was, with an exposed timber frame and plastic sheeting that couldn’t even keep the rain out. Half the people living there were sleeping on the floor, without even the benefit of a mattress. Rodney's Aunt slept two feet from the only toilet in what was left of the house.
The team from the show sent the entire family off to the Bahamas, where they gave Rodney a diamond engagement ring to present to his fiancé – the one he couldn’t afford to buy her himself. And then they built two – yes, two - houses where the shell of the old one had stood. They also arranged, in complete secrecy, for a wedding ceremony to be held when the family got back. While Rodney was in the Bahamas, they sent live video of the college retiring his no. 4 basketball shirt, and rolling it out over the court in his honour. At one point, even the owner of the contracting company helping with the build sobbed as he spoke of the privilege he and his men felt working 20 hour days for over a week, in the pissing rain. None of the designers could talk on camera for the emotion they were feeling.
Okay, maybe you get the picture now. But for me, it isn’t just what I feel for the families on these shows. All of them are facing traumas that most of us will – hopefully – never experience in our lives, but all have the kind of humanity that shines from them like a beacon. As if in adversity the people they really are come to the fore.
But it’s also much more personal than that for me. Sometimes, I sit and think about the stuff I’ve fucked up in my life, and now and again I can even begin to feel sorry for myself. As if somehow I’ve been deprived of something that I deserved, or that my life might have been “better”, if only… But seeing what other people go through in their lives, the pain, the tragedy, that would be unbearable if they stopped believing for even a moment that they were going to make it, that they were going to get through it somehow… that’s when I realise how fucking lucky I am. That my problems are so insignificant and my life so full of things for which I should be grateful. It makes me realise just how little I have to complain about, and it’s partly that knowledge that makes me cry. The relief I feel, despite everything.
Slightly different subject... I opened a new box of Alpen today, and there were so many raisins in it that I’m getting concerned that they’re going to become an endangered fucking species.
"mues·li (myūz'lē) n.
A mixture of usually untoasted rolled oats and dried fruit, often used as a breakfast cereal."