Of Two Minds

Jeff Probst has a new show called Live for the Moment, which according to his blog post on the Entertainment Weekly website "tells the story of someone who has experienced a life-changing event that inspired them to change how they live their life". The show sends "them on a series of adventures which offer major thrills and life lessons in how to live a bigger, better life". The first show was about a husband and father who had been diagnosed with ALS and other shows mentioned in a blog involve someone who survived a plane crash and a former athlete who has been paralyzed.

Despite dreading the execution of the show which seems to lean heavily on that old stereotype of trotting out the ill and disabled to inspire others who aren't ill or disabled, I decided to watch it, not just because I think Probst is pretty and does a pretty decent interview, but to give it a chance. In the first show, we meet Roger Childs and his family - Roger was diagnosed with ALS three years ago, given 3-5 years to live and he, his wife and two sons are doing their best to focus on life, getting as much out of every minute as they can. Roger has always been fascinated by space and in the first adventure, they get a private tour of the Kennedy Space Center by Buzz Aldrin and watch a space shuttle launch. In his other adventures, Roger flies in a fighter jet, goes heli-skiing with an old college roommate who made a big difference in his life (and challenges how much he can physically do by skiing down a powdery black diamond run) and at the end, meets a crowd of all his family, friends and acquaintances. College roommate has created a fund for research into ALS and Roger’s sisters have created a trust fund for the kids so they can get a college degree (Roger's father made this announcement, crying his way through it). Pardon the detail, but I think it's important.

And I'm of two minds about it. On the one hand, this experience was clearly profound and moving for the family, creating some tremendous memories not just for Roger, but also for his wife and sons. As well, although I cried often (because I'm a sap), Roger and his wife were only caught tearing up once or twice, which is a definite improvement over other such programs which really milk the tears of the subjects under scrutiny. The emphasis was on excitement and when Roger and his wife were talking about his condition and what it meant, there was a sense of dignity, leaving the deep, private grief fairly private. I think this reflected the way these people live their life, focusing on celebrating, not on grieving and sadness, even though there is obviously sadness lurking deep underneath and the fact that the show respected this, not poking and prodding and wallowing in their tears as so many others do (Oprah, I'm looking at you) do… well, I respect that. I’ve read the note from Roger on the CBS website and it's obvious how much this experience meant to him and his family.

On the other hand, two out of three planned shows involve the sick and disabled offering up inspirational tales of how catastrophic events in your life can change the way you live. It reminded me of a post I once wrote called Pluck in response to a review of Strong at the Broken Places (great book, go get it) stating that "the public want to hear from people who overcome the challenges of illness" and it hits that place in me that reacts strongly to the whoring out of people with disabilities to make others to reflect on their lives, happy that it hadn't happened to them, but still all "inspired". And while we’re at it, let's really milk it for the tears, placing the person whose life is being dissected on a pedestal as Inspiring, while we all wallow in a sea of tears about how sad it is and how moving it is that the poor cripple gets to have a family, fly in a fighter jet and you know how it goes. We've all seen these programs. And frankly, they doesn't do any of us any favors and make me kind of queasy.

But then there's the added wrinkle. I’ve experienced one of those life-changing moments and have since embarked on a journey of changing who I was into who I’ve always wanted to be, learning to focus on the beauty in the middle things, on finding joy and... I write about it. I write about quite a bit, because when you have your entire paradigm shift, it's not only good material, but it's also an ever-evolving point of view and thinking about it is sort of interesting. I don't do it to be Inspiring and Brave, but I don’t get to choose how it’s received and besides, I'm okay with it making people think (cry and wallow, not so much). So am I a hypocrite? Does it matter where you get your inspiration to live life more fully, to not wait with doing things that are important, to stop getting lost in the busy and the irrelevant and instead focus on what makes your life meaningful and worth living?

I remain of two minds, remembering the joy in the faces of Roger and his family at the exciting experiences they shared, but more importantly, the feeling of connection, love and support that poured from family and friends. They're going to need that and it's a good thing. The show gave them that, the show gave two little boys incredible memories that will always be with them and how can that be bad? Yet… the part where millions of us sat in living rooms all over North America, consuming this program as entertainment and crying because of the Sad and the Inspiring makes me squirm. Maybe it's that some of these moments, the ones where there were crying and family, quiet, mutual inspiration and promises made to take care of kids who were going to lose their dad were to me so very private that it felt like tragedy porn to have the close-up intrude.

All I know is that I’ll watch it again if it makes it back to the air. I think I need to see more before I make up my mind.


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