A Shard of Hope: HBO’s 'The Leftovers' on Grief | Sojourners

A Shard of Hope: HBO’s 'The Leftovers' on Grief

Image via TheLeftoversHBO on Facebook.
Image via TheLeftoversHBO on Facebook.

As a native New Yorker, I can never forget Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I was in college, but heading to my part-time job that morning. My car was being fixed, so my father drove me to work. There was an unusual amount of traffic and as we turned on the radio, we heard a reporter talk about a plane that hit the World Trade Center.

The first thought we had was that this was an accident. It had to be an accident, right? As we listened to the reports though, the second plane hit and it was clear that something was very, horribly, terrifyingly wrong.

From our office in Queens, we watched the towers burn and then collapse. The image of the great cloud of smoke and debris encompassing the skyline has been burned on my brain. And a few days later, while handing out sandwiches to mourners at the makeshift memorial at Union Square with my parents’ church and non-profit organization, the feeling of hugging a total stranger while she wept on my shoulder will never leave me.

It is impossible to forget.

I must admit the timeliness on the part of HBO to air the season finale of The Leftovers in the week of 9/11. Tom Perotta, who authored the play on which the show is based, purposely included allusions to 9/11. Rather than a theological treatise on the Rapture, it is a beautiful case study in grief and the excruciating tension between the desire to move forward and the need to remember.

As a Christian, it was impossible to watch Kevin Garvey, our protagonist read aloud from Job 23:8-17 without thinking of the liberating power of prayer and confession. We watch as Kevin speaks Job’s ancient words and know what it means to be at once terrified and comforted by God’s holiness and power. It is as though in the remembering of who God is, Kevin is able to see himself and find the grace to let go. He receives care and even a new set of clothes from Matt, the Episcopal priest who buys him lunch. Over their cheeseburgers, Kevin confesses that prior to 10/14 he had wished to be free of his family, even having a brief affair with a woman (who disappeared as they were having sex). He shares the relief he felt that they were all together after the Sudden Departure, yet has watched each of them leave. It is in the act of truly remembering, truly seeing, truly knowing himself that he is finally able to move forward.

A similar thing happens with Nora Durst. After the Guilty Remnant force her to remember her lost family through dolls made to look like her husband and children, she realizes that she can never move on and that she doesn’t want to forget. She pens a letter breaking things off with Kevin and when she goes to deliver it to him, sees a baby on his doorstep — the baby for whom Kevin’s erstwhile son has assumed responsibility. Something changes in her and as she picks up the child, sees Kevin and says with a smile on her face, “look what I found.”

That moment hit me, because I have struggled with grief in my own ways and have felt unable to let go and unable to be hopeful. Those times have felt shrouded in impenetrable darkness. But as Leonard Cohen once wrote, “there is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” There is always a tiny sliver of light that finds its way in. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

When we grieve, it is nearly impossible to not focus on “God takes away.” It is very hard to imagine that God would bless again. Yet it’s not in the forgetting that we find hope and the grace to move forward. It’s in remembering all of the joy and pain and grief, but also remembering who God is. In Romans 4, it says that Abraham “faced the fact that his body was as good as dead — since he was about a hundred years old — and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.” He didn’t pretend that he didn’t have a century of disappointment behind him. Yet he still believed because he knew that God “gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.”

The Light that shines in the darkness is more powerful than the darkness. That Light is able to bring new life, even from the dead because Jesus — the Light — conquered death. There is always hope.

As we remember this week and perhaps as we grieve, may we never forget what we’ve lost. But may we also not forget who God is. May we all have the grace to say of the cracks of hope we see in the darkness, “look what I found.”

Juliet Vedral is Press Secretary for Sojourners.