Tuesday, February 24, 2015

why i love (and will miss) parks and recreation


One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD.  And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
                                                                                                   -mark 12:28-31
Jesus was pretty clear about it.  when you boil it all down to its rawest, most basic form, the rules for good living are pretty plain: love God, and love your neighbor.  these ideas are pretty counter-cultural.  i mean, you don't find these "laws" written into the fabric of the way we do politics or business, do you?  in those, and most other, arenas, the primary law seems to be "love yourself and those whom you choose to love."  and this "platinum rule" seems to be reinforced everywhere you look, from wall street to pennsylvania avenue, from the silver screen to the golden globes.  
and that's why i love parks and recreation.  
after all, how many 30-minute sitcoms do you know that celebrate the possibilities for living life differently that we are offered when we love our neighbor?  
in case you are one of the (apparently) many who never watched this show, or who did and just chose to reject its hopeful worldview, here's the deal:  the show is centered on leslie knope, director of the city of Pawnee, Indiana's parks and recreation department.  the cast is mostly made up of her staff, which is a ragtag group of employees who mostly want nothing to do with city government, but who find themselves inexplicably drawn in by Leslie's passionate, if also slightly insane, leadership.  Leslie is driven and goal-oriented and focused, but never to the end of self-gain, but rather for the good of her friends, her neighbors, and the city of pawnee.  she serves them relentlessly.  no matter how many town meetings she holds in which the citizens parade every sort of inane complaining, disappointing selfishness and political ugliness, leslie never gives up trying to serve these people, continuing to believe that she can do something good in pawnee.  no matter how much april rolls her eyes or ron disdains the nature of her work, she loves them.  she makes them homemade gifts and remembers their birthdays and turns pits into parks and lovable losers into hopeful heroes.  
tonight, the series comes to an end.  when it began, i thought it was derivative.  after all, it followed "the office" and seemed to be riding its coattails, with its "mockumentary" format and cinematography style.  but somehow, when the office crashed and burned with michael scott's departure, parks and recreation showed that it had something very valuable to offer, and not just laughter.  but hope.  and thirty minutes of your day that didn't make fun of a lead character who believes she can be successful by loving and serving her neighbors, but celebrated her.  i will miss ron and andy and tom and gerry and chris and april and all of them, but especially leslie.  i will miss her wild hope and her dogged determination to love others.  
we would all do well to love better at our workplace.  to serve our neighbors, even when they annoy us.  to put personal gain at the end of the priority list, because, as Leslie herself said, "your priorities ought to be friends, waffles, and work; or waffles, friends, and work; either way, but work should be third."  we might have a slightly different list, but we would do well to remember that our neighbors come before ourselves.  like Leslie Knope has done on national television for the last 7 years.  
and that's why i will be sobbing on my couch tonight.  

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