Mince once told me he couldn’t remember a single person he saved as a surgeon. He could recall cases, diseases, wounds, but he forgot the people. When I asked him why, he said it was simple: there are no lessons to learn from the ones you save, no reason to remember. Lessons are taught by the ones you lose.
We never remember the ones we save. And we never forget the ones we fail. It’s about taking responsibility for our choices. About learning from sacrifice. It’s those hard lessons that shape us, and how we respond, where we go in our lives. I don’t think there’s ever been a man or a woman without some kind of regret, and that’s probably a good thing. Because it’s our failures more than our successes that make us who we are.
--Maddox Donnor’s voiceover for the "Bacon" episode of Defying Gravity, ABC’s science fiction drama about a group of astronauts voyaging through the solar system. You can see the episode here.
And in this episode of Defying Gravity, this truth plays out most beautifully and fully in the relationship between Steve and Paula, two of the more minor characters of this science fiction drama who are also well on their way to becoming my favorite.
Steve is an unusual choice for the crew. As one character tells him in this episode, “You are clumsy, you eat too much, and you act like a 12-year-old boy.” He is physically out of shape, has a somewhat lazy approach to science and the voyage and, when it comes to Paula, he is particularly cynical about and mocking of her faith.
Paula, on the other hand, is more in line with the rest of the crew—both enthusiastic and good at her job. She can come across rather snooty and over confident, however, and she often responds to Steve’s crude and offensive behaviors with disgust.
They are an unlikely pair to be friends, but that is the path they seem to be headed down—and that advanced in this episode. After a quarrel between them, the mission commander puts them on a detail together. But when Paula is critically injured in an accident (losing a thumb and sustaining internal injuries) inadvertently caused by Steve, he doesn’t rest until she is out of danger—and he searches until he finds her thumb in order to reattach it (because without it she won’t be able to pilot an upcoming mission that is very important to her). At the end of the episode, we see Steve with his hand resting on Paula's as she lies unconscious and in recovery after her surgery.
As we watch these current events unfold, we also see more of their history together during some flashback scenes. During one incident in the medical portion of their astronaut and mission training, they were assigned to watch a patient who had overdosed on a new designer drug. Paula, who shows anger and frustration at the assignment and the patient, reveals that she’s watched too many lives destroyed by drug abuse in the neighborhood she grew up in. Steve, on the other hand, takes a cavalier approach to drug use and does some male bonding with the patient, who is still high. When the patient goes into cardiac arrest and the doctor pronounces him dead, however, it is Paula who refuses to accept the call. She gives the patient CPR for an hour, but to no avail. As they watch the patient being covered by a sheet, Steve puts his arm around Paula and comforts her.
Both of these storyline threads end with powerful moments of human touch and comfort—acts and demonstrations of love. These two are learning from their failures in ways that enable them to feel and demonstrate compassion for people they may have originally had nothing in common with and even disliked. They are learning from and responding to their failures in a way that is shaping who they are: people learning to love, to have compassion for and act in the best interest of another.
And I find that such a wonderful reflection of what it means to be human—of who we are created and enabled to be. Steve and Paula’s story reminds me how we were created in the image of Love itself, and it takes my breath away how God overcomes and uses our failures and mistakes to transform us into the kind of people who love like breathing. He takes what was intended for evil—all that selfishness, destructiveness and darkness we commit—and works good from it. He invites us to “rethink our thinking” (I love how Mark Scandrette phrases repentance) and work with him as he remakes us into the creatures we were always meant to be.
It is storylines like this—and the God-talk it brings into open spaces—that makes this series one of my favorites on television right now. Yes, it has its weaknesses, but I second Gabriel McKee, who recently opined: Where’s the love for Defying Gravity?