The Truman Show

Sometimes writing about my own life feels so personal and stirs up so much drama. It’s no wonder that writers make up people to write stories about or find real people they can write about. It feels so much more comfortable to write about others rather than engage with our own stories so raw and messy. Vicarious drama is risk free, so I am going to indulge today.

I’ve been loosely following the drama of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as they have tried to extricate themselves from the royal family. In his interview with the Late Show comedian Stephen Colbert, Harry made a reference to his life as being like the Truman Show.

I happen to love the Truman Show which is a movie about a man whose life is televised for the world to watch. Everyone knows about the world outside and that it is all a show, except Truman who has been lied to and exploited his entire life. The show ends when he finally breaks free of his prison; an elaborate set that was designed to imitate reality.

There are a lot of parallels between poor Truman and Harry. I remember Harry as a plain little red-headed boy. I was a newly minted graduate of Sugar-Salem High School when Princess Diana died and I watched with the rest of the world as her two boys were forced to parade their trauma for the cameras. Over the years I’ve watched Diana’s boys in the checkout lines at the grocery store or as I waited for a haircut. Their faces, their weddings, and the births of their children have sold millions of magazines and newspapers. Only after Harry and Meghan started speaking about suicide and mental health did they seem like real people to me.

I’ve found myself relating to Harry and his recovery journey. I too have a very traditional family with rigid roles and a hierarchical structure. I too have struggled with mental health problems and overcome many hurdles to get treatment. I too have fought to change institutions that are fundamentally incompatible with healthy living in a modern world. I too have sacrificed cherished relationships, traveled a long way from my homeland, and carved out an existence where I can live my life on my own terms. Like Harry, I love my heritage, I cherish my family, I respect the institutions that have made me who I am; but I also know the ways I have been hurt and that the reasons I have left these institutions and relationships are valid. I too have chosen to share parts of my story and faced the backlash that comes with that level of honesty.

Everyone gets to read Harry’s story and many have passed judgement on him. It’s difficult for me to hear the judgement in the interviews. Yesterday I watched an interview with Michael Strahan at ABC.

“You get a chance to tell your story now. Your brother may never have that chance.”

“How would your mom feel about your relationship now?”

“Do you feel any responsibility in the relationship breakdown?”

“Some critics are going to say, you’re taking private struggles and you’re bringing it into the public and you’re making money off them.”

In taking the initiative to tell his story outside of the usual channels of palace communications, Harry has broken with tradition. Rather than see his book as revealing the rifts that were created by a toxic system, some prefer to see the book itself as the problem and the author as responsible for the pain it shares. I thought Harry’s answers were thoughtful, measured, and compassionate. He shows himself capable of self reflection and insight. His experiences resonate with mine. I have shared a lot of my story on my blog and I’ve had to take responsibility for my choice to share and the consequences of that choice. It takes a lot of courage to engage with the level of vulnerability Harry has. I understand that on some level because I have chosen to share my story. Composing and then owning your own narrative is an important milestone in recovery.

His interview with Stephen Colbert was especially good. The most potent part of that interview to me was the part Harry said, “The moment I started doing therapy, it’s like we started speaking a different language…..they couldn’t understand me.” I felt that in my gut. I felt like Stephen Colbert had less judgement than some of the other interviewers so it was easier for me to watch.

I read a Washington Post review of the book this morning that was pretty good but ended with a disturbing take.

One ends up almost longing for the days when royals just poisoned each other or waged civil war. If nothing else, they got it out of their systems.

I’d like to ask the author, is Harry just a character to be killed off with poison or civil war when we tire of hearing about his pain? Maybe that would be more comfortable for us as spectators, but personally, I find it a relief that we have progressed as a civilization that royal families are using books instead of weapons and armies, and therapy instead of imprisonment and executions. Perhaps Harry and Meghan will be able to make a good life for themselves and their little ones. I can hardly imagine a more abusive and dysfunctional life than the one Harry endured. No amount of money or fame can replace a mother’s love. No title is worth sacrificing your authenticity. Perhaps their pain will lead to meaningful changes. It seems to me that the toxicity that has built up around the British Monarchy and the British press needs to be addressed and that Harry and Meghan have done us all a service by revealing it. The fact that many royal family relationships became collateral damage in the process is, as Harry said, very sad.

For those who seem obsessed with hating on Harry and Meghan, I can only assume that they see a different side to them than I do. I acknowledge that there are many who see them as grifters and privileged elites who are out of touch with the rest of humanity. I can also respect those who adore the late Queen Elizabeth, who seems by all accounts to have been a remarkable woman who lived a life of service. They likely find Harry and Meghan to be attacking the heritage and legacy she spent a lifetime constructing. For my part, I see them as a reflection of myself and my own attempts to individuate from my family of origin.

Individuation is a theme in the scriptures. Manmade institutions become corrupted and rigid. They, like the wine skins the Savior referred to, are too brittle to contain people determined to grow and change. I can only hope that God has designed some solution to the paradox of the human condition. God inspires man and man builds structures which then corrupt and decay over time, betraying the hopes and aspirations that they were intended for. From the ashes of loss and destruction, we must build again, often far from home. Like Moses and Abraham, we wander in search of the promised land. If we are lucky, we tap into our inner patriarch or matriarch and forge a legacy and a heritage for those who come after us. We abandon comfortable dysfunction in favor of growing pains. We eschew the ease of tradition for the risks of innovation. We wander in the wilderness of the world and take up the mantle of the trail blazer.

“In case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!”

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