I recently watched the season 7 finale of Shameless (the US version), a show that I have been following since it started. It reminds me of where I came from in life. I knew people like the Gallagher’s when I was growing up because my childhood neighbourhood wasn’t all that different to theirs. It’s the raw honesty in the relationships of those characters that got me hooked on Shameless in the first place, not the racy sauce Showtime likes to throw in every now and then just to remind the audience that it’s a cable show. Gratuity is easy to find anywhere these days, but honest character portrayal is a much rarer commodity and Shameless exudes this honesty more than most other serialised shows I’ve watched in recent years, which is why I find it so compelling. There are spoilers right ahead if you haven’t watched season 7 yet.
So in the final episode of season 7 we learn that Monica, the Gallagher kids’ mother, dies of a brain embolism after some rather intense partying with Frank. Her kids hated her because she abandoned them, but Frank, their father, still loved her, in spite of the fact that she was a bi-polar junkie who (we learn in this episode) sparked the downfall of his entire life by literally jumping naked into his car when he was at college. We never knew Frank went to college until this episode. In a particularly powerful funeral scene at the end of the episode, we see each of the Gallagher kids stand up and say a few words about their departed mother. We don’t hear what they say as music plays over their words, but through this bit of cinema we gain an obscure understanding of not only what they’ve lost, but also what they’ve gained from having her ride roughshod through their lives as a mostly absentee and completely useless mother.
I come from a part of Durban that could be likened to Chicago’s Southside. In Addington (coincidentally also on the south side of the city) we had our own share of drunks and deadbeats, absentee parents, kids who were always getting in trouble, kids hooked on narcotics at a young age, kids who showed up at school with bruises from the beatings they would take at the hands of abusive parents, etc, etc. Urban hardship shares its characteristics wherever you find it in the world. But in the heart of Addington you’d also often encounter the firmly beating heat of real love in the unlikeliest of circumstances.
I had a friend, Stevie*, who lived in an apartment building opposite mine whose step-dad gave him hell. The step-dad would beat on him and his mother and sister whenever he’d had too much to drink or the frustrations of his blue-collar existence became more to deal with than alcohol could make go away. One New Years Eve Stevie just up and punched his step-dad right in the middle of their dinner. I was in his bedroom listening to music because we were going out that night and I had already had dinner at home. I heard the commotion and a few minutes later Stevie came into the room, tears streaming down his face, holding a broken St. Christopher neck chain in his hand. Turns out his step-dad had said something nasty about his Mom and that was what provoked the outburst. Punches were thrown. Lasagna was assassinated.
After he had calmed down we went out for our evening of clubbing and as we were leaving the apartment I caught sight of Stevie’s step-dad sitting in his chair in the corner of the living room, nursing his swelling cheek with a cold bottle of beer, Stevie’s Mom in close attendance. I’ll never forget the look on that man’s face as we walked out. It was a combination of shame and malice. What I couldn’t understand at the time was that Stevie’s mom, who was at the centre of the flashpoint between him and his step-dad, was making sure he was OK. How does that kind of love work? Where does it come from? My guess is that it’s a shameless kind of love. Stevie’s mom loved her husband in spite of his faults, not dissimilar to Frank’s love for Monica in Shameless (who’s faults were considerably more intense I should add for the benefit of readers who don’t watch the show).
I think our lives are an evolutionary process of coming to a full understanding what love really is and how important it is to lavish it on one another in spite of all our faults. As I go through my life sorting out my own “stuff” I am trying to force myself to understand human behaviour that doesn’t particularly warrant love. If somebody does something to hurt you, how do you not only forgive them, but repay them with kindness, the way God asks us to? I’ll be honest with you, it’s not easy. Forgiveness is harder than calculus or that stuff you see people doing on Cirque Du Soleil. Lord knows I have borne grudges longer than the Nile against people for wrongs I have perceived they have done to me (from an admittedly often clouded and empirical perspective). Having love for those who cheat and hurt us is our sternest test as humans. I’m still a long way from fully understanding this but I have begun the process.
* not his real name