Nathaniel: “ You hang on to your pain like it means something. Like it’s worth something. Well, let me tell you — it’s not worth shit. Let it go! Infinite possibilities, and all he can do is whine.”
David : “Well, what am I supposed to do?”
Nathaniel: “ What do you think? You can do anything, you lucky bastard — you’re alive! What’s a little pain compared to that?”
David: “It can’t be that simple.”
The above interaction is from “Six Feet Under,” a show about the grief of a family that owns a funeral parlor. A dark comedy series, the show features hallucinations and flashbacks of the dead father of the family, Nathaniel. David is getting over an experience getting violently beaten and almost murdered by a stranger he picked up on the street, and he is grieving and unable to go on with life and his job for a very long time.
In the scene, he imagines the interaction with his father after meeting with his assaulter, after still feeling dissatisfied despite the interaction and reckoning. After the hallucination, he does get over his trauma, and that means we have to ask ourselves: can it be that simple? Should we be grateful that we are still alive?
For the vast majority of my life, my answer would have been a no. Moving on is complicated, and not very simple. Life is supposed to be brutish, and messy. But what if life is actually that simple, I ask?
But maybe I’m asking the wrong questions. Obviously, the philosophy is much easier said than done. The show goes on for another season, and it’s pretty clear that scars from the incident still follow him.
“Let it go” in this scene does not actually mean to let it go. I have been grieving, too, of late, and the part of the powerful scene that strikes out to me now is Nathaniel’s notion about infinite possibilities being out there. David is alive, and people who are alive can do anything. I remind myself sometimes, faced with new experiences that break the routine of sad monotony, that there is a whole world out there. It’s not a new world, but just one that tells me that what I do now, at this moment, is not all there is to life.
The emphasis is perhaps what the point is. A story simply about my pain or yours gets repetitive, reductive, and at times, boring. A story is the combination of plot and narrative. There needs to be some conflict in plot, and simply people suffering and being in pain is narrative with no conflict. Do I have temptation, sometimes, to just stay in my room all day, cower to shame, and not allow life to go on? Yes, I do, much like David does in much season 4 of “Six Feet Under.”
“Let that shit go” is perhaps more of a plea from the image of Nathaniel to David to not let the pain of re-living of trauma consume him, but instead a plea to venture out bravely with it, much like he did in confronting his assaulter. It is a plea to stop running away, because what is a little pain compared to being alive? David has been living as if he was dead, yet the confrontation of the assaulter was the first time he allowed himself to be alive.
Maybe the fact that we can live with our pain and go on, and no, things will not be normal for a while and will be chaotic. But that doesn’t mean we can’t forge a new normal — and maybe, for this scene, that’s the point. That’s how we let it go.
Originally published at https://www.theodysseyonline.com on January 29, 2019.