by: Jamie Rautenberg
Maybe it was the Facebook invite to my 15 year high school reunion or unpacking a box containing the dvd set, but I was prompted to watch one of the defining shows of my generation recently. It’s been over 20 years since My So-Called Life hit the airwaves, but it’s lessons have remained with me since my days watching re-run marathons on MTV. And, as a soul in constant search for expansion, I often revisit the film and television characters that touched my heart and shaped my mind in the hopes that I may uncover new insights within their stories.
Though I was now watching each episode with my adult awareness, it didn’t stop me from being instantly transported to the experiences and emotions I passionately wrestled with as a teenager attempting to navigate high school along with Angela Chase and the rest of her friends. I saw their struggles as validation of my own. I’ve always aimed to find the shared truth in these fundamental human experiences that unite us all, even if we only see them played out on the screens of our television.
What the show demonstrates so beautifully is that these lessons of truth can be found within each character, adults included, because, like so many of us, they are living their lives directed by that palpable anxiety and insecurity of the high school experience, especially the parents who strive to contain it.
As Angela says, “Sometimes it seems like we’re all living in some kind of prison, and the crime is how much we hate ourselves.”
The insecurities they battle and perpetuate through creating these mental & emotional prisons of fear all stem for the same core beliefs that keeps each one of them from the liberation and connection that raw vulnerability brings.
We all know this feeling.
It’s that profound fear of being able to directly communicate our authenticity if we think it means we’ll lose something. And what we think we’ll lose is the idea of us we’ve worked so hard to create for ourselves that we believe others expect us to maintain. But, the cost of limiting our expression means we are forced to live in the constriction of our mind’s image of who we think we should be, rather than having the courage to live from the truth in our hearts.
Whether it’s Angela rebelling against her inherently virtuous nature in order to win over her dreamy obsession, Jordan Catalano, Rayanne drinking her pain away because she think’s she’s lost the innocence she admires in Angela, the brainy and introspective Brian Krakow using Jordan to express his passionate longing for Angela after Jordan asks for help writing her a love letter, Jordan using Brian’s surprising eloquence to win Angela’s heart, Rickie’s attempt to deny his homosexuality by considering dating a woman to feel “normal”, or Graham and Patty avoiding the facts that their marriage is shifting due to their own personal growth in conflicting directions, everyone believes their lives would be easier in escaping the truth of themselves.
They’d all rather live in the dark than face the fear which inevitably precedes all liberation. We become strangely comfortable in this insecure yet familiar place, which is where the norm comes from. But, it’s a completely false reality built on layers of judgments and lies we tell ourselves.
In the final episode of the series titled, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”, we catch a glimpse into each character’s dream, both in their waking life and while they sleep. It’s a culmination of themes and questions running throughout the entire series.
Will they have the courage to follow the truth revealed in their dreams or will they continue attempting to live their dreams of and through another?
Will they risk the judgement they desperately fear and communicate honesty through surrendering to the external world around them?
Will they finally experience the freedom that comes with just living life instead of thinking about how they want to live life or how another wants them to live it?
We never really find out those answers.
But, we can take a cue from the show’s insight and learn to do this in our waking lives in each and every moment.
The high school experience only follows us if we deny ourselves our dreams because we dread the thought of a world outside of ourselves not loving us. Our only salvation is to break free from the invisible bars around our minds and start expressing ourselves from the deepest parts of our souls without any attachment to that outside world, and through the recognition that all that matters is within us. It is only through the sincere exploration of our heart’s curiosity in real time that we can learn to shift out of our “so-called” lives and into our true lives which can only be experienced through fully embracing and loving ourselves as we are.
Will we have the courage to take personal responsibility for our lives and the dreams that arise from our innermost passions?
Will we listen to our soul’s request for our own love & acceptance?
Luckily, we all have that opportunity to see what happens if we choose to find out.