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Despair, Comfort and ''Friday Night Lights''

By RD Heldenfels Published: January 12, 2007

On some bad days, when I couldn't seem to control anything in my life, I took comfort in sitting at a keyboard and putting sentences together. It was something I believed I could do well, something I could give all my focus to, something that felt good to start and even better to finish.

Of course, over time, I finally learned that a page of type doesn't love you back. You have to remember the people in your life to have that. But I could still find some joy on those pages.

I was thinking about this tonight as the bride and I caught up with the three most recent episodes of ''Friday Night Lights,'' one from December that had been sitting in the DVR through the holidays, then the Jan. 3 and 10 telecasts. It does not need to be repeated that I love this show. It may need to be repeated that it is as mired in despair as any show on television.

Yet. Yet. Yet.

Yet as much despair as there is, as unhappy  as families are, as often as friends turn on each other, as tight as money gets, as complicated as relationships may be ... at the end of all that, people can find something that they do well. It's football for many, but not all. Matt's father may not be great at being a dad, but he's good at being a soldier. Coach's wife is really good with young people. Buddy, for all his sleazy ways, is a loving father -- and Tyra's mom is as good at being a parent as she is bad at choosing men.

It's important to have that one thing. Part of Jason's quandary is that he has lost that one thing, and he has to find another. The terror inside Smash is based on his fear of losing that one thing -- or, even worse, finding out that he isn't as good as he thought -- and so losing the comfort that comes with it. The lawsuit cuts deep because it could cost the coach his one thing.

Where it gets complicated is in seeing whether you have chosen one thing has real value. Like Smash, the town's identity is based on the one thing of football. But football, the show keeps telling us, is a temporary relief.

It is not love. It is not family.  It is not faith. it is not integrity and commitment.  Football has aspects of those things, but it is not those things. Because, again as the show keeps telling us, a football game -- like a piece of writing -- ends sooner or later. Life does not.

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