TRUE STORIES — Counterparts

J.T. Knoll
Morning Sun

“To love another human being is a magnificent task … tremendous and foolish and human.” — Louise Erdich

I’ve just finished binge watching — at my son’s urging — the excellent Starz series ‘Counterpart.’

It’s about a parallel Earth accidently created by scientists in 1987; a mirror image in which we all have a doppleganger, an exact ‘other’ on the opposite side.

The difference between worlds becomes drastically pronounced after 1996, when a deadly virus kills hundreds of millions in one world. This virus is suspected of being purposely delivered from the parallel world, resulting in a tense Cold War between the two, with counterparts (others) used as planted spies and sleeper agents who pass through the portal between the worlds.

One world continues to resemble ours, but the other world becomes quite different, with protagonist Howard Silk (J.K. Simmons) being a ruthless and cold assassin in one and a mild-mannered statistician in the other.

The series’ similarities with what’s happening in the world today are eerie, from showing people wearing face masks to protect against the virus to accusations that the virus was purposely released. Especially since the series ran from 2016 through 2017.

In the end, it’s a love story. Not only for the two Howards and their parallel wives but the whole cast of characters and their relationships with one another and the two worlds.

Love and relationships — something we might do well to consider in these difficult times. I’ve gathered some quotes on the subject to ponder.

• “Close friendships are one of life’s miracles — that a few people get to know you deeply, all your messy or shadowy stuff along with the beauty and sweetness, and they still love you. Not only love you, but love you more deeply.” – Anne Lamott

• “Only solitary men know the full joys of friendship. Others have their family; but to a solitary and an exile his friends are everything.” — Willa Cather

• “Love all the people you can. The sufferings from love are not to be compared to the sorrows of loneliness.” — Susan Hale

• “Those who need us give us a hold upon life.” — Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

• “Someone to tell it to is one of the fundamental needs of human beings.” — Miles Franklin

• “To know when to go away and when to come closer is the key to any lasting relationship.” — Domenico Cieri Estrada

• “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

• “In a perfect union the man and woman are like a strung bow. Who is to say whether the string bends the bow, or the bow tightens the string? — Cyril Connolly

After pondering the above I’m struck with how little they bring to mind idealized, romantic love — or perfect friendships for that matter.

Enduring love and/or friendship is messy. It requires clarity and commitment, not idealization. It’s learning how to endure the tension of the opposites.

The same is true for being a good neighbor and citizen of this country. They require not only clarity and commitment but also communication and conflict resolution. Not to mention tolerance and acceptance of the complex nature of one another’s personalities and individual lives.

The final episode of ‘Counterpart’ reflects this complexity by showing love and friendship’s role in reversing some past sins while, at the same time, showing its ability to seek vengeance for others.

All the more reason to ponder, as we struggle to see the reality of the coronavirus and the parallel — but different — worldviews in which it exists today, to stay mindful of our personal two others, our inner ‘Cain and Abel’, and move forward with friendship and love, despite all the messiness and sweetness it entails.

For social support is our most powerful protection against stress, anxiety and despair. “The critical issue,” writes Bessel A. van der Kolk, “is reciprocity; feeling we are being held in someone else’s mind and heart.”