On Jane the Virgin and the terrible wonder of tragedy

I’ve written before about the “reality” of Jane the Virgin, which somehow always roots its soap opera shenanigans in realistic human emotion. Perhaps never have I felt that more than with the midseason finale of season three and its next-week aftermath, which kills off Jane’s still-new husband Michael and then jumps forward three years into the future. Michael’s death was shocking, yes, and well-acted, and though I cried at that episode, it was the next one that really got to me. It opens with Jane’s Alba, explaining gently but firmly, that Jane will always feel different from now on, that truly nothing will ever be the same. And yet, she says, just as firmly, Jane will once again find things to love. She’ll find beauty in her life, find a way to let the light back in. And as impossible as it seems to Jane at the time, it turns out to be true. On both counts.

The episode of Jane the Virgin that showed Michael’s death talked a lot about memories — how we form them, how we perceive them to be absolute truth thereafter, though they’re informed so much by the circumstances and the layers of years piled onto them. Some memories, the episode says, are seared into our brains as brightly as a camera flash, though the parts around them fade into the background. This, I know, is true as well.

The saddest part to me, of this new Jane reality, as well as maybe the most heartbreakingly real, is the show’s efforts to show the true weight of the trauma Jane has suffered. She is no longer nearly the same person she was when we began the journey with her, and she’s changed in a way no accidental insemination, kidnappings, and almost-deflowerings she’s experienced along the way. She’s lost Michael, the person she thought would be there with her for the rest of her life — to share her burdens, her triumphs, her milestones and frustrations — and for something as sudden as it is random. And the loss is twofold: of both Michael himself — a person with dreams and secrets and complications and unknown, untold layers — and of the Jane she was when she had him, a Jane who was complete in ways she will never be again. (Not to mention the knowledge that Mateo, young as he was, will probably never remember the man she loved and lost, who was such a big part of her life.) She has to carry, alone, the weight of every new milestone, every triumph and frustration, knowing that Michael’s life will stay frozen forever in that message on her phone, excited about buying bodega oranges, while hers continues forward, inexorably. Every moment she lives is a moment he doesn’t.

And yet. The true tragic paradox of humanity, the terrible and wondrous secret, is that our losses propel us forward, for better and for worse, for we can never know what might have been but only what is. Jane has lost her husband and her partner, and there will always be a level of guilt in forcing herself to move forward when he cannot, to let in the light and even, eventually, happiness, to realize she can still laugh and love and experience life. And (terribly, wondrously) to know that some of the things she experiences would not have come about if not for his dying: maybe even some of the most beautiful parts of her new existence. The chasm will never fill, but flowers may grow around its edges, with thorns that make you bleed and blooms that dazzle with their beauty. Jane may live the rest of her life wondering why and what if. But maybe she will also wonder at the things that have knitted together in the space between. May all of us be so lucky.

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