"David Chase described a scene he once planned, then scrapped, for a 'Sopranos' episode, in which Tony would have found himself lost somewhere in the Meadowlands without his car, eventually forced to take a public bus. The episode would have ended, Chase said, with a close-up on Gandolfini's face while Joan Osborne's 'One of Us' played on the soundtrack with its familiar chorus, 'What if God was one of us/Just a slob like one of us/Just a stranger on the bus/Trying to make his way home.'"--From Variety's coverage of the funeral at St. John The Divine
It seems like Nelson Mandela may die soon, and I hope his family decides to let him go. I say that having had to pull the proverbial plug for my own dad a couple years ago after ten hours of open heart surgery left his body dependent on machines to function. Keeping him alive for my own sake when I knew that whatever time he had left would almost certainly be filled with suffering and humiliation if he survived at all seemed...wrong. The week he lay dying was brutal, filled with the most gut-wrenching things I hope I ever have to see and the hardest choices I hope I'll ever have to make but that one decision itself was clear to me and I never regret it, not for a moment, even though he wont walk me down the aisle or meet my children, even though I miss him every single day in more ways than I will ever attempt to explain. I think though that true mercy is the highest honor, a perfect slice of grace, and for all the gifts my father gave me I fought to give that small shiny bit of peace to him then, when he couldn't take it for himself.
James Gandolfini died in Rome last week suddenly, too young, and we grieved like he was our own wayward brother or complicated father or hard-to-reach son. We loved him mostly for Tony Soprano who regularly did and said horrible things. Still, we forgave him Sunday after Sunday like Carmela did for cheating on her because we knew somewhere at the bottom of all that weight he wanted the same things we do; to stop being terrified of what he couldn't control, to protect the people he loved from harm, to find his way in an alien world where we are each in our own way refugees, trying to make our way home. And however failingly he seemed to be trying, always somewhere trying, to be a better man. Gandolfini once said about Tony Soprano:
"It's that searching that I think a lot of America does half the time. You can go buy things you can go do...whatever. But, he had no center left. And I could really identify with that."
I was thinking about Tony Soprano and Archie Bunker before him and Don Draper and Walter White each in their own particular ways continuing the strange winding walk down the same projected hall. How much we love them, how loyal we are and how often we forgive them of their dizzy loss of morals when the center no longer holds. I was thinking about them in the wake of the unending Paula Deen debacle. I understand it's a leap, that she's real and they're not (and ps: if there were any comparable female anti-heros on TV I'd have named them and no Hannah Horvath doesn't count, at least not yet) but I wonder about how and whether we mete out forgiveness when a person tells the truth about their mistakes and then expresses remorse for what they've done wrong. I passed judgment on Paula Deen a long time ago for the donut encased bacon-cheeseburger alone, and think what she's admitted to saying in that deposition is appalling but...unforgivable?
The more she talks the more ignorant and unsophisticated Deen seems and until we figure out how to enlighten everyone (maybe fixing our broken school system would be a good start, maybe making every kid do this exercise in grade school) are we really going to ceaselessly mock and lambast the ill-informed? Or if we are then will we also admit to a kind of collective glee that seems to have fomented in watching this woman implode? I'm just asking. I ask with the understanding that in this case anyway, it's ultimately not for me to say, that I might feel a sharper point of outrage and would have more righteousness in my judgment one way or the other if she had used the word kike or delighted at the thought of planning a Nazi-themed wedding. (It seemed easy enough for us to forgive a royal scamp with the best education and most sophisticated handlers on Earth like Prince Harry though.) I'm not saying anyone should pay for products shilled by someone they find offensive -- I won't and I don't -- and I'm not saying a profoundly honorable company like Walmart shouldn't drop that person on principle. Because it's all about principles, right? I mean they would certainly stop selling semi-automatic weapons after the massacring of schoolchildren, right?
Members of my graduating high school class watched Nelson Mandela walk out of prison in February of 1990 on a small TV at a ski lodge in New Jersey where we'd gone for a last winter hurrah. We were mostly privileged self-involved second semester seniors but on that gray snowy morning we sat huddled in clusters, still and reverent. Children of the eighties, of Ronald Reagan and the Cold War we inhabited a world where a character like Gordon Gekko was born. The last time we all watched something live on TV together it was the Challenger exploding against the sky into trailing flames. We grew up without any true heroes of our own, where the ones we should have inherited from our parents were murdered in the decade before we were born. We had Mandela, even in a world and a culture so far away, we had Mandela and Mandela was all.
By the time we were through with college and had watched our first televised war -- more distant fire against blackened skies -- Mandela had been sworn in as President of South Africa. This man took over a government that had imprisoned him for 27 years, created a new constitution that in its interim attained the agreement of 21 different political parties and continually insisted in the face of horrific violence on peace. If his enduring legacy isn't the transformative power of truth and reconciliation, the alchemy of forgiveness, the strength and literal patience that's necessary for it to be made I don't know what else it could be. There is great muscle in compassion. There is energy, sturdiness and forbearance in seeking honesty to understand why we do the terrible things we do. I just think we should choose our battles wisely and remember that we are all, at least a little bit, as David Chase described James Gandolfini in the end: sad, amazed, and confused.