Viral Emotions

I had a buddy in college that was all juiced up about taking this film-making class. As soon as he’d signed up for it, his anticipation for the next semester was constant. He couldn’t wait to dig into this class. I ran into him about a month in to the new semester and asked how the class was going. He burst into the story of how he loved it. How he couldn’t wait every morning to get to the class and just get into the learning. I commented that it would be an easy A for him and he shook his head. “No, I’ll probably fail the class because I never do the homework but the stuff I am learning is awesome!” I was bewildered – “but why don’t you do the other work and get the good grade?” He shrugged, “I think I’m going to leave school by next semester and get into a real film school instead. I found what I loved.”

I can’t begin to tell you what an impression that made on me. Here he was so in love with the subject matter that the grade was irrelevant. The actual work had become his obsession, not the conformist following of rules that would supplant the grade. It didn’t matter where he’d been. “As long as it was deep.” See? See the beauty in that depth? Little Jackson seems he would understand that. I know a lot of adults who wouldn’t.

The 1980’s hit show Miami Vice featured weekly performances by Edward James Olmos who played Lieutenant Martin Castillo. He was the man who kept the famous Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs detective team in line. His character was so strong yet understated that often the audience wouldn’t know he was in the scene until he uttered a one word, “no” or a somber “I’ll handle that” from some shadow in the scene. Clearly the show’s production team had decided that only a leader with such steel will could influence the hot head detectives, but it always set up a quote or two that summed up everything in as economical an utterance as possible.

In one very emotional episode, Sonny had accidentally shot and killed a tall, young boy who’d raised and aimed a toy pistol at him during a nighttime riot. The investigation had cleared Sonny of any wrongdoing and excused the incident, but he couldn’t live with the guilt he was feeling. He came into the Lieutenant’s office late one evening and burst into a fit of emotion admitting the memory of how it all “went down” was eating him alive. The lieutenant listened to Sonny’s entire rant and stared at him until Crockett was spent of emotion and began weeping into his hands.

“It should eat you alive,” he concluded.

“That’s it?” Sonny whispered.

The lieutenant went on to explain that a thing as tragic as killing a young boy, no matter what the circumstances, is a painful memory that anyone with a conscience should never forget. It will taint him and change him and he will never be the same from it. However in time he will find a place for it, learn to live with it and march on.  Because there was no denying it had happened and there was no denying that could never be changed. “In time you will either choose to forgive yourself or you will have decided you’re not going to make it,” he concluded. “For now, go home.” Crockett collected himself and left the office, Castillo stood in the center of the room staring at the floor. It was all so true.

We never know what levels or depths of emotion lie before us. I watched my dad leave the earth when the heart attack that had knocked him to the ground finished the job in the hospital. I watched my wife bring forth our child who was an absolute image of a combination of she and I from the minute earth’s light entered his eyes. I’ve seen the look in the eyes of people I’ve had to fire and the joy there for the people I’ve hired. I’ve heard myself lie to people who are without hope and who are grasping at any strand of possible resolution to their problems. I was there to see the terror in my grandfather’s eyes when they took off the respirator and told him that since they’d removed one and a half lungs he would breathe very differently from now on. He’d turned to me and gasped, “I don’t – want to – live – one more day – like this. Tell them – to let – me die.”  Each of those situations required different reactions from me but all of them came from the same base of emotional maturity. The gift that my parents made sure I understood and developed–the ability to cope. I believe little Jackson aptly exhibited this same feeling during his Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame.

Ron Ciancutti is the Director of Procurement for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at


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