Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What We Found in LOST

Sunday night, my wife and I watched along with millions of viewers everywhere the captivating conclusion to one of the most epic, engaging, confusing, and emotionally moving television series ever conceived; LOST.

For years we've followed the fractured lives of the survivors of Oceanic flight 815, and as they struggled to find answers to the riddles of the Island and their place in the whole scheme of things, well, with nearly as much pain and confusion, so did we! But last night, as far as we're concerned, we found those answers. The series ended on a pitch perfect note. In fact, without a clue as to how they could possibly wrap up this incredible journey full of an international cast of almost two dozen characters, the finale surpassed our expectations.

But what made this series so captivating and why will it leave an indelible mark on television for years to come? I think there are 6 solid answers to that question:

Each week brought viewers deeper into the secrets of that lush, dark, and mysterious Island, and it seemed over the years there was always something new around the corner. In fact, right up until the very end! (That Cave of Light, the very heart of the Island, wasn't revealed until just recently). What a powerful analogy for all of us; life is a searching, a deepening into the events and encounters that form us, shape us, and hopefully draw us out of ourselves into Something More. "Our hearts are restless..." as Augustine knew, and they are made for questioning. "Guys, where are we?" the character Charlie whispered in the first season, and we should continually ask ourselves the same thing. 

In that same search for answers, the survivors would peel back the veil just a little bit for us each week, but always more mystery remained. It hooked us. The Smoke Monster, the Others, the Hatch, the Numbers, the Cave of Light, the Whispers.... these words have become iconic. And as the series ended, not all mysteries were explained, thank God! I can't tell you how disappointing the "new" Star Wars film Phantom Menace was when it "explained" the Force, whittling it down to some microscopic entity in the bloodstream! Our deepest identity is not something merely biological, but an animating presence, a spirit that is immortal, and made for Eternity. We are made for ever deepening Mysteries. The Mystery of God Himself! LOST fed that longing for the infinite and unexplainable in a way not too many series ever dreamed of. And I'm actually glad for some of the loose ends and unexplained pieces. "For now we see dimly, as through a glass darkly, but then face to face." (St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:12)

In our morally muddy times, the clarity of Good and Evil found in LOST was like a refreshing stream running through the TV (finally). Not that all of the choices made by the characters were pure. In fact, all too often we saw them learn through the via negativa, the negative way of immorality. We learned to move right by their moving left. But the redemption was always near at hand. One of my favorite episodes in this regard was The Cocoon, from season one. In it Charlie, with the help of John Locke, overcame his heroin addiction and rescued Jack from certain death. Over and over again, it was the choice for good or evil that shaped the series, just as it shapes our lives today.

The vast diversity of people that formed the cast of LOST and the ways in which their lives were interwoven was yet another incredible accomplishment for this series. It took stereotypes and gave them real faces, and so often flipped the scales on us. LOST taught us to feel for everyone, unwed moms, drug addicts, murderers, con men, lonely men filling cubicles, self-obssessed beauty queens, and even maniacal manipulators like Benjamin Linus! In the immortal and oft-quoted words of Jack Shephard "If we can't live together, we're gonna die alone!" Pretty good words to live by if you ask me. To gaze upon each other in all of our diversity, our weakness, our strength, our beauty and fragility is the first step to real communion.

Who didn't suffer on this Island adventure? It seems every character had a cross to bear from their past, from their lives before the plane crash. As the series unfolded, we treasured those famous flashback scenes, learning the tragic history of Sawyer, the dark heart of Kate, Rose's struggle with cancer, Jack's deep father wound and obsession with making things right. And didn't this backward glance determine and influence their future? Ultimately their peace came about not by rejecting their broken past but by facing it... moving through it. Our lives are richer that way. We learn real compassion that way. "For we are like olives," says the Talmud. "Only when we are crushed do we yield what is best in us."

Finally, though the list could go on, I think one of the most captivating draws of this series was the emphasis on love. If we look deeply, it was always shimmering just below the surface, appearing in flashes like a rainbow trout in a stream of often turbulent images. But love was there, and it illuminated everything. Charlie and Clare, Sun and Jin, Rose and Bernard, Desmond and Penny.... in the final episode this love literally brought them all together, and it brought them to, of all places, a church! For a Catholic guy like myself, I was overjoyed to see that final scene, with the characters we'd grown to love, passing a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, gathering in a church with a tabernacle at its center. Then the words spoken by Christian Shephard (wink wink) given to Jack... "You needed each other... to remember, and to let go." And then Another Door opens, and that LIght streams in, and they let go. Love wins, again!

Granted, the series had its sins, and plenty of them. Murder, adultery, constant deception, seething anger and jealousy... but welcome to the human race. We must sprinkle holy water on everything, and pray that we too can let that Light overpower the smoke monsters of our own doubt and fear and hate. 

So that's what I found in LOST.... a little inspiration, a dose of consternation, perennial anticipation, and now finally, some relaxation! At least until the next epic series dawns (although I don't think we'll "find" another one like LOST too soon).

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