If you are an avid fan of Law and Order: SVU, and have not watched the two-part season finale crossover with Law and Order: Organized Crime (OC from here on out), maybe don’t read this until you have.
Ok, quick refresher: I’ve been watching SVU all 24 seasons. All. Of. Them.
Yep, that’s right. As of this week, I have spent exactly half my life deeply involved in the lives of Olivia Benson, Elliot Stabler, Odafin Tutuola and the rest of the crew, even as “the crew,” has morphed and changed multiple times.
So. That said….
Detective Stabler, an original SVU character, disappeared after like season 12 – the actor and management kept butting heads over salary and contract, so the real-life drama goes. But the storyline is that he abruptly left SVU and his longtime partner/best friend Benson after a child died in a shootout. The L&O world mourned, let me tell you, even as Benson went on to find new partners and work her way up to Captain. Most of us deeply committed (read: obsessive) SVU fans have a real soft spot in our hearts for Benson and Stabler, the “oh they are so good together in so many ways but he’s married and we love his wife too,” conundrum a yearly source of prime time stress.
Stabler reappeared as the central character in OC three years ago, via a crossover with an episode of SVU, and those of us who’d been waiting Ten. Long. Years all squealed loud enough to wake the entire city of New York. Benson and Stabler, reunited, finally.
The premise of the first season of OC is that Stabler’s wife has been murdered by actual organized crime, and he needs Benson’s help to find out who and why- this leads to a permanent position on an organized crime task force in the NYPD. He hasn’t seen Benson in 10 years, but now he’s back, and he needs someone he trusts to help him. They are, after all, old partners, and just like you never forget how to ride a bike, they’ve never forgotten how to work together, how to support one another, how to be there for each other.
I think they are, in part, so inviting as characters because at heart (and whether we’d admit it or not) we all long for a connection like Benson and Stabler. Someone who can guess our next move; who knows our hearts sometimes better than we do; who would quite literally take a bullet for us if needed; and for who we’d do the same; who loves us good, bad and ugly no matter what but who also almost always sees the good over everything else.
And so here they are. Over a decade after they last saw each other – both of them with a world of hurt and trauma and grief and adventure and story to share. They never expected to be in close proximity, in close relationship, again. And yet….
This season ended on a note that left longtime fans wondering, “Are they finally more than work partners?” Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe they will remain trusted colleagues, committed friends, maybe their long unanswered questions of “Is there something more here?” will be answered. Maybe not. But as I’ve watched this story unfold over the last few years – as well as the last 24 – I’ve been struck at this truth: We never know how things will end up – jobs, relationships, families, where we live, what we do – we never know, despite all our planning, all our goal-setting, all our efforts at creating the life we’ve always thought we wanted….
We never know.
I can’t decide if this is terrifying or invigorating or hopeful or what. I can assure you that if you’d asked me at 25, or even 35, if my life is, right now, as I imagined it would be, the answer would have been a resounding, “Hell no.”
Not a single thing is as I thought it would be.
Not. A. Single. Thing.
And yet here we are.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, a teacher of Maddy’s, who has become a dear friend and who has also survived cancer, said to me, “Julie, it’s going to teach you things you didn’t know.”
He should have added – and maybe he meant – and that you need to know.
He was right, of course. As I’ve written before, while I would not have chosen to live my life with a chronic blood cancer, I am unequivocally grateful for the things it has taught me. It’s a long list, those lessons.
Yesterday, as I remembered that friend’s words, and as I was texting with a dear one I’ve known since childhood (and who I did not ever anticipate being so close to midlife) I thought, the friend’s words are true of most things in our lives, especially the things that we do not expect, or plan for, or even want.
They teach us things.
It’s like I also once wrote before – I don’t believe God causes our pain. I also don’t believe God wastes it. I believe with all my heart that in our deepest heartbreak is also where it’s possible to find our greatest experience of love.
In the first episode of the opening scene of the season after Stabler leaves, Benson is told by their then-captain, “He’s gone.” She backs up against the wall behind her, her entire body reacting to the news that her best friend has left her without warning or notice, and she slides down it, falling to her knees in shock and grief. It’s a brutal scene, impeccably acted.
The thing is – it isn’t possible to really live, to fully love, without heartbreak – the kind that, if you allow yourself to feel it, brings you to your knees and makes you wonder how in the world anything will ever be okay again. And also the thing is – the only way forward is straight through the heartbreak. Which is exactly what Benson does – her heart broken, her entire landscape having shifted, she keeps going.
She. Keeps. Going.
And in the keeping going a whole new life opens up. One she never thought could be possible.
In the last scene of the last episode of this last season of SVU and OC, Stabler and Benson find themselves having finished a difficult case, one that brought up a lot of hard things for them both. Stabler is leaving for an assignment undercover, and he’s come to say a temporary goodbye. And in their care for each other, in their honest conversation, is the truth that they never imagined to end up so close again, and there’s so much to work through – but all they want is for the other to find the happiness, the wholeness, each longs for.
Maybe that will be together, maybe it won’t – but in the space of all that has been between them, and all that could be, was a lot of hope, a lot of promise that on the other side of pain dwells a mercy we’ve never dreamed could be ours. Even if that mercy doesn’t get written or experienced exactly as we’d imagined.
And so here we are, y’all. Everything that we’ve lived having brought us to this particular moment.
In the space of all that has been, and all that could be – that’s where hope takes its very firm root, and where mercy starts its slow, beautiful work.