I'm way behind on my Doctor Who watching, because, well, really, David Tennant. I mean, he's gone. And I haven't been able to really accept this new guy, though I think he's on his third year. It's got to be hard following David Tennant.
Anyway, I'm up to sometime in his second year, and came across something important. It's actually amplified by this Doctor being sort of manic and unanchored, because the contrast when he pauses and say something wise is more pronounced. So he's talking to a young woman whose husband was killed in the war, and it's Christmas so she hasn't told her children because she doesn't want to spoil Christmas forever for them.
So he says that he understands, that she's angry because they're happy now and they'll be so sad later, and what's the point? He says, "They're happy now. They'll be sad later. So what use is the happiness?"
Then, very gently, she says, "Because they'll be sad later."
And that's it.
I was trying to reverse-engineer why this was so powerful. First, of course, the situation (children losing father, always sad). But also I think it's because the mom is having to pretend. She knows her husband is dead, but has to pretend that he's going to join them. The tension and conflict that deception adds is wonderfully poignant. I think often we want to portray the exact experience, but in fact the depth of emotion is often in the complications, the what-ifs and if-onlies, not the exact reality. If we can impose some complication, we might intensify the emotion.
The other thought though is that emotion is always paradoxical, and when we express it as a paradox, we are presenting its power. How meaningless it is that they are happy now but only because they don't know they'll be sad later. And yet, there's exactly where the emotion is-- that they will be sad later, so the happiness now is even more important. And then -- we can look ahead-- the future pain will be that much greater because of the present happiness.
The paradox, the complication, can't really be explained, but can be expressed, and in simple terms, the simpler the more affecting:
Because they'll be sad later.
Emotion is complicated, and it's simple. The experience is complicated, but the expression is simple. Think about that. Our response to great emotion, however complicated, is tears, you know? Great joy. Great confusion, Great pain. Tears.
Complicated emotion, simple expression.