Too Much Drama in My Life … and Not Nearly Enough

Some of my earliest memories involve stories: The Raggedy Man or The Duel being read by my poetry loving father, his readings of the classics like Black Beauty or Old Yeller, or joining in with our musical neighbors’ accompaniment to American folk songs like Goodnight Irene, The Frozen Logger or The Cat Came Back, which were also sung on every long journey of my childhood. I was an early reader and immersed myself in Beverly Cleary and The Bobbsey Twins. I could get lost in the adventures of those characters. Biographies were also among my youthful book choices, as well as mysteries. Involvement in the lives of people -- real or imagined – has always been of great interest to me.

Movies were a rarity as a child, but the occasional viewing of The Wizard of Oz or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was cause for much joy. Obviously the variety on television in the 1960s was limited compared to today, but we did look forward each week to such treats as Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Andy Griffith and The Brady Bunch. I don’t remember much about the daily dramas, or soap operas, except that no one actually seemed eager to admit to watching them, but there sure were many of them for many years.

Later I would join the world in following the exploits of Luke and Laura on General Hospital -- I have some memories of watching that in late high school and early college years-- as well as the night-time drama, Dallas. I would continue my love for getting lost in the stories of people in books and television and movies throughout college and the 1980s and early 1990s. I have fond memories of nights on the couch watching shows like Moonlighting, ER, Chicago Hope and Northern Exposure. I never stopped getting lost in a good book, but eventually lost interest in television as our family grew and PBS and Nick Jr and Disney filled our screen time.

Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime have allowed me a new interest in the storytelling and drama of television. We have finally begun to catch up with the rest of America, having in the last year or so watched The West Wing, Parenthood, The Gilmore Girls, and Grey’s Anatomy. Most recently we have succumbed to the Downton Abbey craze. I am surprised at how quickly and fully I am drawn into the lives of these people, how important watching their dramas unfold has become to me, how moved I am by their triumphs and disasters, and how many times I have said, “I am not watching this anymore if this or that happens!” (But, of course I always do.)

I am not the only one who loves stories. The entire entertainment industry is built on the love of telling and hearing stories – as we gladly pay to stream music and purchase movie tickets, consider cable a necessity and then add Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime and buy and download books to our Kindles and iPhones. And the more drama the better, as music and movies and television shows get more explicit and less fairy-tale-like. The messiness of people’s lives is fascinating to us.

At least at a distance.

A Polish proverb has been translated into English and circulated a good bit lately: “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” In other words, I do not want to get mixed up in your mess, drawn into your drama, or pulled into your problems. Go away and leave me with my Netflix. This hit home the other evening as I was nestled with my iPad and Amazon Prime for a bit of Downton Abbey, when the doorbell rang. I suspected it was my neighbor needing a ride or some other help or maybe just to talk. And I actually thought to myself, “I just don’t have the energy for any more drama.” Besides, I had just gotten to the exciting part in the show I was watching…

Yes, I was convicted.

How is it that I could care more about what was happening to Lady Grantham than my neighbor across the street? How could I be more concerned about the woes of Anna and Mr. Bates than the burdens he wanted to share? How can I claim I don’t want drama in my life and then spend time and money to add it to my life?

We are to bear each other’s burdens, share each other’s stories, and deal with each other’s drama. It is messy. It is time consuming. And it may feel like a circus filled with monkeys.

But it is my circus, and they are my monkeys.