I have developed a fondness for a new sit-com that at first glance seems hardly worth any glance at all. The Neighbors is the story of a human family that has moved into a suburban community that just happens to be totally inhabited by aliens in disguise. Much of the humor is not especially sophisticated–like the fact that the aliens all have adopted the names of human athletes (and quite incongruous ones at that), drive golf carts instead of cars, and have very little understanding of human customs. They constantly do odd or inappropriate things, and seek the guidance of the Weavers, the one human family, whom they hope will give them wisdom and help the assimilate–at least to a point.
The obvious humor hides a deeper point though, and the real genius of the show. While we expect people of different cultures–or planets–to have difficulties adjusting to one another, the truth is that even among those with whom we have much in common, we still have a very hard time knowing and understanding each other. The Weavers struggle with human culture almost as much as the aliens do, and the aliens are dysfunctional in their own way in their dealings with each other and within their own personalities. A universal truth seems to be that in fact we are all aliens to all who differ from us–and everyone differs from us in some way, even those closest to us.
In a sit-com, we can laugh at this space that exists between us that we can never quite conquer. In fact, laughter is likely a coping mechanism to hide our pain, because our deepest pains are tied to this space. This is beautifully testified to in final scene of the movie A River Runs Through It. As the lead character fishes alone, he considers his loved ones–those he “knew but did not understand”. In his reflection of that reality, he sees that all he can do is reach out to them. He is “haunted by waters” he testifies, but the waters haunt him because they whisper to him of the lives he is connected to yet disconnected from. The ones he loved and knew yet remained in some ways just beyond his reach.
So what are we to do? Religions, philosophies, even politics to some extent, grapple with this deeply human question. And all the grappling has never come away with a better answer than this: Love, love some more, then keep loving. Love even when it hurts–maybe even especially then. And expand the love–friends and family sure, but even alien and outcast. Even those who call themselves enemies. Love doesn’t conquer the space between us, but it does narrow it. It allows us to reach across and touch. To know a little closer, a little deeper. To see the human in the other. To see past labels to the person underneath. We are all aliens, but we don’t have to be enemies, and who knows–perhaps we can even be friends.
Idealistic? Certainly. Dangerous? Perhaps. But isn’t it interesting that the one road we could walk down to make the world a better place is the one road we consistently resist walking down?