I have a very grainy photograph (sadly too grainy to reproduce here!) taken on an old mobile phone of me on a Warner Brother’s back lot, sitting in Central Perk on the sofa from the television series “Friends”. It was taken two years ago on our visit to Los Angeles. The set had been re-assembled on in a building on a dark back lot just off the Warner Brother’s Studio tour route. When the tour guide took us in, it took my breath away. That set, and the people who played the characters in Friends, had spent so much time in my living room via my television I felt like I knew them – although of course I couldn’t possibly have as they were only characters played by actors. But somehow I felt like I was returning to somewhere I had already been a hundred times before.
For ten years, once a week, the characters from Friends were there in my house. Missing an episode was awful. To begin with, Friends aired on a Friday on Channel 4 in England. Part way through the first series, we moved 150 miles from London to the Midlands. One of the first rituals we started in our new house was eating take away pizza in front of the television every Friday night and watching Friends. For struggling young parents, it replaced the night out we couldn’t afford and we always looked forward to it. And for the few months that it took us to settle in and make new friends, it filled a gap. All of our friends always loved the series and it was often a topic of conversation.
We looked forward to every episode over those ten years. Never, before or since, has a television programme been that much a part of our life. I’m not much of a television watcher, truth be told. I’m quite selective about what I watch and only watch things I really enjoy.
Anyway, tonight they had a re-run of the last episode on television and I watched it again. It was strange to step back – especially after all that has happened this year – and remember how things were when I watched that last episode for the first time. We were in another house in the Midlands, and we were only just entering the difficult times my poor parents went through with their health. We didn’t even realise Dad was ill, mistakenly believing that his first heart surgery had cured the problem and all was well. We never thought he’d have to have another one, never imagined that four years later both he and Mom would no longer be with us. We could never have envisaged the upheaval we (and they) would go through, constantly on edge, frantic trips to Canada every few months, worrying every single minute for five long years. We could never have imagined how much my parents would suffer either.
I found myself almost transfixed, even though I knew exactly what would happen next in each scene of that last episode. It was almost as if I somehow moved backwards in time. This time though, I watched the episode, and observed my reactions to it, through different eyes. I’m older and slightly wiser, if a bit worse for wear. And somehow, watching it kind of helped me resolve some of the upset and confusion I’ve been feeling as I realise that I really do have to move on and let go of the pain. Like the television series Friends, that part of my life is over. All that matters is the present. If I don’t let go of the past I’ll be swallowed alive, and no one wants that. It’s the last thing my parents would have wanted either. Like the last scene of the series, the still shot of the closed door after the actors have left, I need to close the door on that part of my life and move on.
Strange, isn’t it, how something as simple as a well loved television programme, a piece of fiction, could come back round again and be a part of my life again just for long enough to help me move forward? God really does work in very mysterious ways.