That One Time, On Barney Miller

When I was a kid, one of my Dad’s favorite TV shows, was Barney Miller.  My dad was a hard-working kind of guy.  Old school.  He came home dirty every night and times were tough.  But, when he watched Barney Miller, he would laugh.  So, I watched with him.  I liked seeing my dad laugh.

But, one particular episode left me thinking for the rest of that evening.  It’s where detective Chano accidently shoots and kills a kid and he’s left devastated.  His Captain, Barney Miller comes to his apartment to visit him and talk.  As Captain Miller is leaving, he stops and says to Chano, “Did you ever wonder why, the sperm whale, which is one of the largest mammals on the face of the earth, has a throat about that size (with one hand, he makes a circle with his fingers and thumb)?”

Chano replies, “Yeah, I always did wonder; why is that?”

And Captain Miller says, “Because that’s the way it is.  And there ain’t anything you can do about it.”

It’s funny how certain things resonate with even a kid of my age, at the time.  And obviously, that scene is still with me today.  At first, I felt betrayed; like, this show is supposed to be funny, not tragedy and drama.  You’re supposed to make my dad laugh.  What are you doing?!  But, the next episode was funny again, so we all moved on.

Back to Chano though: We tend to torture ourselves with what should be or could’ve been, longing for a reality that doesn’t exist.  We’re complicated emotional beings with empathy and a soul, but at the same time, we’re logical.  Simply saying, “… that’s the way it is”, is a logical approach, but it’s not very comforting.  It’s not comforting, because of its closed-ended finality with a zero percent chance of hope.

But, hope can be a form of torture as well.

Dealing with tragedy is a process and even if we successfully pass through all five stages of grief, including acceptance, it’s never actually over.  Captain Miller’s logic was to skip over denial, anger, bargaining, and depression to acknowledge reality; “that’s the way it is.  And there ain’t anything you can do about it.”  Get your shit together and move on.

I understand Captain Miller’s approach.  If I see a nail sticking out, I grab a hammer and bam!  The nail isn’t sticking out anymore.  Fixed.  That’s how most guys function.  We want to fix things, so that we can move on.

But, why was that nail sticking out in the first place?  “What?!  Do you want the wall to tell me about its feelings and its relationship with the nail?”  Sort of; yeah.  Because, nails don’t just push out of a wall for no reason.  A plumbing pipe shifted inside the wall, pushing the nail forward and when it was hammered back in, it punctured the pipe and now there are bigger problems.  Oops.

Anecdotally, we’ve all been there, done that.

“Did you ever wonder why humans have a yin and yang brain, where the limbic system operates on emotion and instinct, yet the neo cortex is all about logic and calculation?”

“Yeah, why is that?”

“Because that’s the way it is.  And the best we can do is learn how to operate both systems in harmony.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m still working on that.

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