I’m bordering on obsessed with the CBS drama Madam Secretary these last few days. And by “bordering” I mean I might be bringing a whole new level of depth to the idea of binge-watching (y’all please don’t tell my editor, because I’m totally okay with him thinking all I do is write, until my fingers are black and blue and my shoulders ache).
I totally don’t want to be a spoiler-type, so I’ll just give you a quick rundown:
Former CIA analyist/operative Elizabeth McCord, now happily and peacefully a college professor, is tapped to be Secretary of State following the death of the current Secretary in a plane crash. Turns out the POTUS and “Bess,” as he calls her, go back to Langley, and he is convinced that Elizabeth is the person to step in and move things forward in a difficult time. So she and her husband, a rock star of a religion professor, pick up their bucolic academic life and transplant themselves and their three children to DC. And Madam Secretary begins her new job…her new life.
All sorts of dynamics, difficulties, chaos and challenges ensue. Some personal. Some professional. All of it against the backdrop of situations that, while perhaps adapted for prime-time drama, are certainly not entirely fabricated: Middle Eastern politics and war, genocide, refugee crises, battling political agendas, energy wars, religious conflicts at home and abroad, etc.
Plus…she’s a mom…a mom who desperately wants to get that part of her life right.
I think I can tell you the crux of an particular episode in Season 1 without ruining things–essentially there is a lone gunman situation at the State Department just as Madam Secretary is trying to broker some cooperation between various Islamic leaders in the face of a growing threat from ISIS. And in the midst of all this, it is revealed that CIA Analyist Bess was involved in some pretty questionable interrogation tactics during the Iraq war. Tactics which, in non-TV land, realities like Abu Ghraib made no longer acceptable.
Her 20 year-old daughter finds out. Is horrified. Disappointed. Says some pretty awful things to her mother. Her mother does not try to justify the sins of the past, but she does make it clear how complicated things were then, how it all seemed so messed up and urgent and desperate and how she did what she thought she had to do to save countless lives.
I’ll stop there in case I’m ruining things for anyone just starting the series–but I was so struck with the tension of the scene/situation.
Because Elizabeth really is trying to do what’s right for the world. And her daughter really does see a grave injustice (and likely rightfully so). But in between them lies this vast gray area of how difficult it all is. How complicated.
And I was reminded how quick we are to judge when we have not stood in another’s shoes. And how often we try to explain away the things we might have done differently, the times we were less than our best selves, in an effort to make something right out of it all. And of how, really, the line between simple and complicated can sometimes be so hard to walk. And of how sometimes, it seems as if there might never be a way into wholeness again when we’ve fractured off bits and pieces of ourselves trying to find our way through the snarls and tangles life often hands us.
I don’t know what redemption looks like for a former CIA operative who danced the line of torture. Hell, most days I’m not even sure what it looks for me–in ways little, in ways enormous.
And so I wonder if maybe the most we can do is cut each other a little slack. Try to allow for how each of us has our own baggage we’re dragging alongside us each day, and maybe we can’t help but be influenced by that baggage. Speak more kindly. Extend a little more mercy, knowing that we all stand in need of it. Practice humor some. Walk with more intention through our day and recognize we do not live in a vacuum. Not at all.
It’s Sunday night. The sun’s falling fast and cool air is feeling a bit like grace, and the night-bugs are rising in chorus. And I’m thinking, maybe, tomorrow, Monday, might be a good day to remember how very complicated we all/it all can be. And perhaps the simplest response to that is to allow for it. And then practice some gratitude and love and understanding in the midst of it all.