Monday, June 13, 2011

Sweet Dreams and Other Things in Pieces on the Ground

Every time I watch Extreme Home Makeover, the same question enters my mind: Is it difficult for these families to reconcile gaining such massive profit from the tragedies they’ve experienced? Typically the recipients of these amazing homes have either suffered the untimely loss of a parent, have a disabled child (or 3 or 4), lost their home in a natural disaster, or were living in near-squalor after having been cheated by scam artist contractors. Sometimes they fit into more than one of those categories. The most tragic stories win a new house and all the furnishings, often with the balance of the mortgage paid off, and even scholarships for the kiddos.

When the show first started the makeovers were modest, they were actually makeovers of existing homes.
Roofs were fixed, appliances were replaced, and the redecorating was realistic. But as ratings grew, so did the budgets. Now, the existing homes are demolished and entire new homes are built in one week with 100% of the furnishings replaced brand new. Children’s rooms look like dance clubs or rocket ships, parents’ rooms are “spa getaways.”

I don’t begrudge these families for accepting the gifts offered them. If anyone deserves some free shelter and college scholarships, it’s them. And they are always extremely gracious and overwhelmed by the generosity bestowed on them. But I always wonder if, when they close their new front door and the camera crews leave, does any of the sadness leave with them? I know I’d rather have my husband with me in our undervalued townhouse than be a widow in a mansion. I just wonder what it does to a person’s mind knowing that this gourmet kitchen and indoor basketball court only came to fruition after heartbreak, medical devastation, or loss of life.

Back when I still believed the urban legend about the meaning behind James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” I felt the same way about this song. Rumor has circulated for decades that the “Susanne” in the lyrics was Taylor’s girlfriend who died in a plane crash after his bandmates flew her in to meet him as a surprise. This story is not true but for years I would tear up every time I heard the song thinking about that tragedy. I always wondered if Taylor would have traded the fame and fortune that “Fire and Rain” brought him if it meant having his girl back.

Now I’m not talking about making lemonade out of lemons. I totally agree that we all have to take what life dishes out at us and try to make the best of it and try to find a way to grow from our experiences. This can be done on many levels, privately or publicly, and can take years to accomplish depending on the size of the lemon. What I’m pondering is the mental journey one takes when a personal tragedy directly brings great fortune. You can’t go straight from despair to living the high life without some introspection. After Eric Clapton’s toddler son died in a high-rise fall, he wrote the song “Tears in Heaven.” I can’t help but wonder if he ever felt guilty for the royalty checks the song has brought him? Are the six Grammy awards he won for it reminders of his son’s death or symbols of triumph?

At least with a trophy you can hide it in a closet. What do you do when you’re living in the trophy?

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