A JUXTAPOSITION OF HELPERS

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A few years ago, I needed some help. My wife and I had purchased a large photograph that we wanted to hang in our living room. We were living in a complex that had created two-story apartments out of single units. This gave us 18-foot ceilings and huge canvases of wall space that we always sought to fill for some reason. I sought out the miracle providers at Craigslist to find my helper. A muscular ex-Marine named Tom showed up at our home within two hours. More importantly, Tom’s 24-foot ladder accompanied him. Tom ascended the ladder and began to nail the first hanger when everything stopped. Tom froze. After a few moments of things being on pause, I enquired of Tom if things were okay. It was at this point that Tom informed me that he had a secret fear of heights. I quickly envisioned Tom falling from his perch to our hardwood floor. Hoping that Tom was not the litigious sort, I spent the next 15 minutes talking Tom down off the ladder, which I would later use to hang the picture myself. In a turn of events I could have never foreseen, I became the helper in this situation.

Two of the central characters in The Leftovers were sent helpers this week. The juxtaposition of these helpers and those they have come to help gets very interesting. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Damon Lindelof said “There are these people who are seeking to strive and discern meaning from [the disappearances] and saying, ‘I need to change my life. But no one’s telling me how to change my life.’” In The Leftovers, people often struggle with how NOT to be changed by the disappearance that has occurred. It’s human nature to try to eventually return to normalcy after a tragic event. So often, we try to avoid being changed by the event. Many characters in Mapleton are doing just that. They “honor” what happened and try to not let that event redefine who they are. Then there’s Meg Abbott (Liv Tyler), who is so desperate for that change in her life that she is forsaking all she knows to join the Guilty Remnant. But it’s clear she will need some help.

Change of any sort is hard. Advising someone on how to change his or her life is a HUGE responsibility. It’s not a few words of advice. It’s daily walking beside someone as they fail and being patient through a process that is as organic as it is authentic. Laurie Garvey (Amy Brenneman) is doing just that with Meg. In one of the most moving sequences on The Leftovers thus far, Meg is challenged by Laurie with falling a tree in the woods. While Meg wields the ax, she creates more blisters on her hands than slices in the bark of the tree. She eventually abandons the task, not understanding the purpose. However, after the slightest effort on Laurie’s part to show some humanity, Meg rises early the next morning to complete the mammoth task of chopping down the tree. Meg’s journey reminds us how willing people are to make big changes in their life if those around them can provide even the smallest bit of help. Laurie is a reluctant helper at this point. Meg seems to need her help more than Laurie wants to give it. I suspect, however, that Laurie will eventually be more transformed by providing this help than Meg is by receiving it – but isn’t that often the case?

Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) was also sent a helper this week. His helper seems to have sought him out and appears much more willing than Laurie Garvey. Dean (Michael Gaston) appears to Kevin in the first episode after shooting a dog out of Garvey’s hands. Initially, it doesn’t appear he is there to help. However, Dean quickly shares a bit of insight about the nature of the dogs that becomes very helpful. Then Dean is nowhere to be found in the moments that Garvey needs him most – to vouch for the existence of his sanity. But just when things seem lost, Dean again appears and provides light for the next step in Garvey’s journey. Unlike the very human forces of the Guilty Remnant who have sent Laurie to help Meg, Garvey’s father (Scott Glenn) provides a revelation that Dean has been sent to Kevin by unseen (perhaps supernatural) forces. Where Kevin has been reluctant to accept help from Dean, his tune quickly changes.

So we now journey with a reluctant helper and an eager receiver of that help, as well as an eager helper and a reluctant receiver. I can’t think of a better setup to explore the nature of helping others — one of the most key aspects of what it means to be human. And as a guy who has talked an ex-Marine off a 24-foot ladder, I know something about that.

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