If-i-sodes

I’m almost a week late in getting to this post, but it must be said: The Grey’s Anatomy “What if?” episode was brilliant. It was not just a surface level glance at the vagaries of fate–this was an in-depth look at the many layers of our connections, our journeys, and the seemingly small decisions that affect not just our own lives, but profoundly shape the lives of those around us. Was it as fun to watch as the Friends  similar journey in “The One That Might Have Been?” No. But, it packed some similar insights, and also wove a deeper narrative of human experience.

Spoilers coming up. And, for those who don’t watch Grey’s at all, stick with me. Skip to the ** paragraph if you don’t want the details.

I don’t want to go back over every single thread anyway, because it frankly makes my head hurt. But the beginning of the episode found nearly everyone in a totally ‘other’ situation or relationship than the show in real time. Alex and Meredith together, are you kidding me? Not to mention, Alex in khakis and dorky glasses? It was almost too much. Cristina not only without Owen but With Bangs. Callie and Owen married, plus babies. Ellis Grey, alive and well, and happily married to the Chief.  George, alive somewhere but not a doctor. No shooting. Addison pregnant with not-Derek’s baby. Derek known round the hospital, not as McDreamy but “McDreary.” And the real kicker–Lexi Grey in the ER as a patient who o.d.’d on cocaine. Wherein Mark Sloan carried her in, laying her in a heap to be doctored by–who else?–Jackson Avery. Brilliant.

Some predictable threads in the romance department–Alex and Meredith? Even with her having a mom and him having those dorky glasses, that was NEVER going to work. He was always going to have to play the screw up–eventually–in order to evolve into the rough-edged, passionate, child-advocating hero that he is today (in real time).  Callie playing it straight? The smallest spark between she and Arizona leads us to believe that, even in the “what-if” scenario, they were heading towards a life together. Or at least, a tortured life apart. Same with Owen and Cristina. In the shortest possible interaction, the ‘what-if’ world revealed that her brokenness spoke to his in a way that was inevitable–and necessary– for either of them to heal.

Just as inevitable as Derek and Meredith, each suddenly alone, meeting in a bar. Over shots of tequila. Some things were just meant to be.

And yet…some things were not so certain or inevitable. There was another thread that I found deeply haunting. (A week later and I’m still thinking about it).

This whole episode started with Meredith wondering, what would life be like if her mother had married the chief, and not suffered Alzheimer’s? Sure, at the outset, that seemed like the idyllic situation. Meredith not so ‘dark and twisty,’ her mother a practicing, ground-breaking, award-winning surgeon. Chief Webber as the loving father she’d never known…

But see, that’s where it got tricky. Turns out, there was a price to be paid for that happier, more whole version of Meredith. Because with Meredith’s mother around, Chief Webber wasn’t the chief. He was just Dr. Webber, who spent most of his “doctoring” time managing Ellis Grey–who, even without Alzheimer’s, turned out to be a *%^$* and kind of a handful. She fired Mandy Bailey–Doctor MIRANDA Bailey–for her own mistake. And Dr. Bailey, in this alternate universe greatly subdued, left without argument.

You know why this Dr Bailey was so subdued? Because she didn’t have a Chief Webber around to push her. (We saw how he affected her evolution in a previous episode).  In this scenario, he was too busy doing damage control for his wife’s career. And as alternate-universe Meridith pointed out–he had been ‘made small.’

Who else was affected by the diminished Richard Webber? Well, George, it would seem. Only mentioned in a single line of dialogue, George seems to have “failed his intern exam and disappeared.” We can only assume he disappeared because there was no force of Miranda Bailey around to push him…because there was no Dr. Webber there to push her… and so it goes.

That haunting image of Dr. Bailey stepping onto the elevator opened up a whole other thread of “what-ifs” for me. What about the patients? How many countless lives did she save or transform as a surgeon, and as a mentor to other young doctors? And by extension, the lives those patients touched after their own recovery? It boggles the mind.

**I left the whole episode with a line from “It’s A Wonderful Life” ringing through my head. George Bailey asks the angel Joseph, what happened to all those men my brother was supposed to have saved? And Joseph says, “All those men died, George. Harry wasn’t there to save them because you weren’t there to save Harry…”

And there is the truth.  Whatever we think of as fate, God’s plan, or destiny, there is a critical component of our lives that comes down to our own making. And any single choice (or 2) that we make can profoundly affect not only our future becoming, but the lives of those around us. A sobering thought.

Does that mean we are not allowed mistakes? Of course not.  There are alternate routes to what was meant to be. Sometimes. There are people we will find no matter what, and there are some things we have to learn the hard way (witness: Alex Karev in khakis. He’s still got a long row to hoe). But the consequences of our actions are wide-spread and long-lasting. Ignoring our instincts and inner-voices will ultimately cost us. And failing to see that our actions affect others–that can be downright deadly.

I used to think of Grey’s as a guilty pleasure chick show. But it keeps reminding us that our individual plot-lines are as yet unwritten, and that we may never know ( in this world) all the ways they intersect with the larger human story. On and on we go. If only we could each have our own ‘if-i-sodes’ from time to time… A glimpse of the world without us, or of our own lives had we gone home by another way. All I can say is, heaven help us if our own Chief Webbers and Dr. Baileys choose the easy road and leave us hanging. Heaven help the next folks if we step on that elevator with our box of stuff, and go quietly into that alternate ending.

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About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...


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