How Buffy Saved Me In 2016

Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Buffy The Vampire Slayer

“Strong is fighting. Its hard, and its painful, and its every day.”

Since the election, I’ve, honestly, been checked out. No news. No twitter. No sharing my anxieties and fears and frustrations online or face to face. (I’ve told many people of all the things I lost in this election, my morning NPR fix has been the most surprising and depressing.)

I went to a local organizing meeting and gave money to causes I care about, because those actions felt purposeful and tangible, but everything else, all other ways I’ve come to engage in justice work over the past four years, have been too painful. Too terrifying. Confronting the reality of our country right now sent me into a literal panic.

In all that free time, I’ve instead been watching 144 hours of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, a show I long-resisted watching for vague reasons related to not liking scary shows and thus thinking I’d be too afraid of creepy demons and bad special effects or that it was a show I was glad existed but one that wasn’t “for me.” I’d been told, for years, by two of my closest friends and my sister, whose TV taste, collectively, I trust more than anyone’s, that I should watch it and would love it but had for about 10 years resisted. Because of that years long resistance, I am not sure what made me finally press play on Episode 1, “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” the first week in December, but I did. And I haven’t been able to stop. I careened through seven seasons in less than a month.

The reason why has been bubbling beneath the surface of my viewings and hit me in the gut upon watching the season 5 finale last week: Buffy has been a true catharsis for me this month. It has been unbelievably healing (and I mean this with all sincerity) to watch a petite blonde teenager (and then woman) beat up and triumph over tangible and defeat-able forces of evil, forces that could stand in for the oppressive forces of patriarchal control and weak, basic, human fear that are running roughshod over our country right now. I have been completely sucked in as I watch Buffy wrestle with the work she knows she has to do while also mourning what she loses in the process — love, connections to her friends, a normal high school and later college life, a sense of safety and security, her childhood.

But she has to, because she is the force that stands between our world and its total destruction. To quote her (spoiler alert) tombstone, she saves the word. A lot. At great personal sacrifice.

But she reminds us over and over again that this is the work that must be done. She reminds Angel, when he is about to give into the death he thinks he deserves, that it isn’t strong to take yourself out of the equation to “help”, that “strong is fighting. It’s hard and its painful and its everyday.” Buffy reminds her sister Dawn, as Buffy is about to make an unbelievable sacrifice, again, to save the world and Dawn, that Dawn must be the one to be brave and go on, because “the hardest thing in this world,” is not to die, but, “to live in it.”

I felt all of that this year— like it was all too much, like what I could do was too little and, in the end, wouldn’t matter. That I was better off checking out — leaving the work to those with more power, more connections, more strength, that self-care needed to take over so I could go on with my life. But I know that wallowing in that place isn’t strength. Yes, its necessary at times, to take a step-back, to take care of yourself, to assess where you could be most helpful, but what is most necessary is fighting, knowing it could cost you and pushing forward anyway to do what is right, to save the world from itself.

Buffy also reminded me, when I felt so powerless and alone in my grief, that the power to change the world is more powerful when it is shared. She pushes back against the oppressive forces who want to control and isolate her, who want her to feel that the weight of the world rests solely upon her shoulders, and she changes the rules. She ultimately shares her power, first with her friends, then with all the potential slayers of the world, when she realizes that she alone can’t (or rather shouldn’t have to) shoulder the burden alone, that the power to change the world rests in all of us if we work together to share the power we have and the burden of the struggles we face.

This all sounds very self-serious and potentially hyperbolic, but I honestly needed the reminder. Before the election, I was prepared to bask in the glow of history, of our changing world bending collectively towards justice. Now, I finally have come to accept that the next four years (at least) are going to require digging in when it feels too hard, giving up some comforts to stand up for what is right, and supporting and standing with one another, together. As one of my favorite Jewish teachings from the Pirkei Avot reminds us, “it is not upon [us] to finish the task [of repairing the world], nor are we free to desist from it.” I cannot check out. I have a part to play.

I am actually thankful in this moment that past Amanda thought Buffy had nothing for her, because right now, what she has for me is what I needed reminding of most of all. TC mark

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