If you haven't laugh/cried or cry/laughed in a while, this is your chance. I want to start with a big *thank you* to whichever one of my Facebook friends posted this Argentine ad for the new drink, "Coca-Cola Life," so that I could find it and celebrate it. It is the greatest sixty seconds I've ever spent after scrolling through my feed at the end of a hard day—the kind day so perfectly captured by the ad itself. Here it is (be sure to activate the sound):
Ok, go ahead and dry your sopping wet smiley face; and feel free to watch it multiple times in a row. There's more to notice with each repeated viewing, and the brilliance of it shines brighter and brighter. It packs as much emotional punch as Don Draper's Kodak Carousel pitch which sent Harry Crane hurrying out of the conference room in tears.
I think it is perfect in every way. It tells a funny, profound, sympathetic, and inspiring story in a single glorious minute. And the execution of the twist at the end is remarkably effective. You parents know all too well what this young couple feels in each little glimpse into their lives: the joyful expectation, then the utter transformation of the world you once knew with your beloved spouse; all new levels of clutter from baby gear and exhaustion from interrupted sleep; heart-wrenching moments of longing for the easiness of life before and of absolute terror when your little one suddenly disappears and you go looking; a moment as simple as sitting down to lunch disappointed by affectionate pummeling of your head.
KIDS ARE SO HARD. Sometimes, it's so overwhelming that you (...I) have to scream into a pillow. Lately, I've enjoyed sidling up to other parents at parties or after Mass just to say, "Parenting is the hardest thing ever," and then relishing their unanimous reaction of a breathy, "Yeah-oh my gosh-it really is-wow," with that stare and the light head shake as they suddenly relive it all. That is exactly where we find this young couple near the end of the ad when the wife reveals the positive pregnancy test. They feel like they are barely surviving each impossible day and now there is about to be twice as much of all of it.
I'm very pleased with the way the wife is depicted in that shot. She realizes that this might not be the best time to break the news and her facial expression is just vacant—as if she is waiting for her husband to supply the correct emotion. What will he do? What will he say? What do I feel? What should I say? It's like she can't even know her own heart without him. They are one flesh, after all; and this new child is not theirs individually but theirs together. I had this exact experience. My husband and I still felt newly married while I was working hard (in a very enjoyable job) to supplement our graduate student stipend and our NFP efforts started to lack their former diligence. "I think you're pregnant," he told me one day. "Shh!,"I hissed, shooting him a panicked, dear-in-the-headlight look. "Don't even say that out loud. It's not a good time!" Then next day, there it was: a plus sign so clear it seemed to have a giant exclamation mark beside it. That hollow, petrified look is the same one I gave my husband. I needed his help to know how to be in response to such an enormous revelation. I see myself in that actress. What a performance.
Now to the husband. Someone, please give that man a CLIO or an Emmy or whatever award they have in Argentina for his acting in this moment: first the shock and alarm as he eyes the positive test while downing the drink, then the musically-cued shriek freighted with all of the anxiety and helplessness of the whole world gathered together in one terrified father. I totally expected the ad to cut to black at the peak of that scream while the song continued to play (its lyrics rendered ironic) and the Coca-Cola logo gently faded in: Life. I would have laughed for a moment, but would have been left in that moment of the wife's empty yet reaching face. How do we manage? How is it that every single living adult was once born and then raised through those very trying early years? How does the human race keep on? It is so hard. But mercifully and wonderfully, the ad does not leave me in that stupor. It harrows me from it like Christ freeing the righteous from Hell. Dawning over the crest of that despairing yell is pure joy bursting forth over top of it and conquering in the name of Life. As that smile begins to enter his shattered expression, I felt a rush of warmth flood to every part of me. Someone who is really into Coke could wax poetic about how the drink itself achieves this sensation with it's bubbly refreshing goodness and that's what's responsible for the change in the dad. But of course that's not really the point; love is what overcomes this father, just as the Bee Gees sing in the ad's refrain: "You don't know what it's like to love somebody, to love somebody, the way I love you." And of course we Christians know that "God is love" (1 John 4:8) and His son is Life (John 14:6). So if we're looking through a glass brightly, we can find the song and the acting and all of the other elements of the video leading us to God.
The father's scream is the eucatastrophe of which Tolkien wrote so beautifully—the sudden joyous turn that somehow comes as the fruit of apparent disaster at the end of a fairy story. I discovered this concept in college and in that moment a thrill of hope ran through me. It is the essence of the Paschal Mystery—the Resurrection coming from the Crucifixion—as this Mystery is experienced in the microcosm of ordinary family life. These two parents have sacrificed themselves day in and day out for the sake of their little family. Theirs is a white martyrdom of everyday life, and we know that through the fight comes the glory. The wife's heart is filled to the brim by her husband's response as she takes his cue and is then able to celebrate wildly with him. While I watched the ad over and over again, the eucatastrophic sensation that my newly-reverted self once knew was back, and this time more profound than ever; for I am more in love now. I have more to love now—my own husband and our two little children. I thought of the line from Les Miserables, "To love another person is to see the face of God." Bless you, Coca-Cola, for this spontaneous act of beauty.
This was exactly what I need to start the new year. I had gotten too bogged down by the agony of every day life with a four-year-old and a one-year-old (both very "active") and I needed to be reminded of the ecstasy there to be found, as well: the sweetness, the fun, the rewards of very hard work. I was reminded to be grateful for the gift of my sons and their unique personalities and to mortify the selfish desire to return to the retrospective ease of pre-parenthood that I too-often mourn. I'm reminded of something a friend of mine wrote in a caption under a photo of her husband and children pillow fighting which read, "Family: It's the only life."
As Pope John Paul II said in his Letter to Families,
The contemporary family, like families in every age, is searching for "fairest love". A love which is not "fairest", but reduced only to the satisfaction of concupiscence (cf. 1 John 2:16), or to a man's and a woman's mutual "use" of each other, makes persons slaves to their weaknesses. Do not certain modern "cultural agendas" lead to this enslavement? There are agendas that "play" on man's weaknesses, and thus make him increasingly weak and defenseless.With this commercial, Coca-Cola seems to reject those modern cultural agendas by promoting the "fairest love" of family life. (Here's what they have to say about it on their own website.) The final shot of the mother and father holding and rocking their son is even like a modern day echo of the Holy Family cherishing their hidden little life together. I might not go out and pop open a Coke right after watching, but I do want what I see.
On this first day of 2014 which is also the solemnity of the Holy Mother of God, I pray that I may better imitate Mary who observed the unfolding moments in her family life—the poignant, the painful, the majestic, and the mundane—and "kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). That is my New Year's resolution: that a life better examined may yield greater joy.
If you would like to read more about this ad, Aleteia has an interesting piece about it. If you have ever thought you're "not a kid-person," drop everything and read this. And if you're looking for some blogs that regularly touch on family life, a few of my favorites are Time Flies When You're Having Babies, Catholic All Year, Carrots for Michaelmas, and of course there's Conversion Diary and I Have to Sit Down. They each have a great blogroll if you want even more.
What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear from you! Also, I just added those little buttons for Gmail, Blogger, Twitter, and Facebook on the bottom of each post. Share the love! ;)
Next topic: Winnie-the-Pooh Day (January 18th)