This is in response to a blog prompt from The Daily Post to write about “Sacrifice.”
Prompted by the downward spiral of my country’s political process, I started binge-watching The West Wing again yesterday. I didn’t see it the first time around, when everyone was using Martin Sheen’s characterization of President Josiah Bartlet to escape the Bush presidency. It wasn’t until 2011 when, reeling from a few very personal losses, I took a leave of absence from my job and, instead of flying off to Chad as originally planned, moved into a studio apartment in the Lower East Side.
It was a sublet from a film accountant who had gone to Rhode Island to work on Moonrise Kingdom. Aside from being in enviably close proximity to Wes Anderson and his usual cast of characters, she had LOTS of DVDs–including the entire 7 seasons of The West Wing. As someone who doesn’t watch much TV, I only made it to season 3 before moving out and relinquishing all that footage of Rob Lowe.
Over the past five years, I’ve made it through a few more episodes. I won’t spoil the season 4 cliffhanger/season 5 opener except to say that President Bartlet temporarily relinquishes power and the White House is placed in the hands of John Goodman, whose tough-talking Republican Rep. Glen Allen Walken now seems tame compared to the Donald. In yesterday’s episode, one of Walken’s staff tells Josh Lyman:
The whole notion of the 25th Amendment is that the institution matters more than the man. Bartlett’s decision was even more self-sacrificing because he willingly gave power to his opposition. … A truly self-sacrificing act usually involves some sacrifice.
And this is it. Truth. That when we sacrifice something we hold dear in order to help another, or for the greater good, it usually hurts. For those living far from loved ones in order to (hopefully) help reduce the suffering of strangers, this may mean missing weddings and births and even deaths, finding it hard to establish long-term relationships or escape the long-distance cycle (joint R&R, work, repeat), feeling unsafe or unwell more often than we’d like to admit. It may also mean giving up work that we truly care about in order to nurture our relationships and our health.
For me, these little nuggets of truth are why The West Wing was such a good show. (That and Rob Lowe.) And why it becomes such a tempting form of escapism when real-life U.S. politics veer further and further into what surely must be fiction.