Lately, a new favorite pastime of certain organizations, groups, and vocal critics seems to be directing their vitriol at the TV show Friends. And yet repeats of the show have never been more popular—even creating demand for a cast reunion special in 2021 and a current national touring exhibit of popular Friends sets, including Central Perk and Monica’s and Rachel’s apartment.
I acknowledge that during the show’s run from September 22, 1994, to May 6, 2004 (during which it eclipsed any kind of ratings that could be had today via streaming outlets), the series had some very vocal—and somewhat deserved—criticism. Just as most forms of art do. Whether today’s loudest critics want to admit it or not, the TV show Friends is a form of art. Actors. Writers. Directors. Costumers. Set decorators. Crew members. A group of creative people came together to produce (say it aloud with me) entertainment.
As a very overweight, closeted young gay man in the 90s, I sometimes bristled at fat jokes made at the expense of morbidly obese Monica during the show’s flashback sequences. Just as I would cower when seeing scenes depicting characters Joey and Ross losing their minds over being perceived as “gay” after mistakenly falling asleep next to one another.
But you know what? Even through my winces, I was laughing. Because I was seeing aspects of myself on screen. Whether anyone today wants to admit it or not, Ross being married to a lesbian (a storyline played out over the course of the series) was groundbreaking in those days and can even be credited with making the entertainment climate more receptive to shows like Will & Grace and others.
Was Friends’ depiction of certain ideas or situations perfect? No. Could the show have had more regular cast members of different ethnicities and identities? Definitely. But for the time frame, the show ran during, the creatives behind the series were likely doing the best they knew how to.
While it can be helpful, moving forward, to look back and find ways to evolve in all aspects of society, to lay criticism on artists and fans as if we should have been culturally aware of the standards in 2023 during the 1990s is not helpful. Aren’t we all doing the best we know how to—then and now? Instead of lambasting me and other devout fans of Friends or other shows, why not create something yourselves? Something we can love and applaud along with you.
No one has a time machine (trust me, I’d have used it several times by now for all sorts of reasons). We can’t go back and change anything. So to humiliate people for loving something from their past, something that might have given them solace and hope (say, for instance, someone like me—again, a very overweight, closeted young gay man who was told I could not “come out” at work unless I wanted to be fired, and that I would never find romance because of my size) doesn’t manifest positive change. It often creates an atmosphere of guilt, shame, and toxicity.
Friends wasn’t perfect. No form of entertainment is (don’t get me started on the last few seasons of Game of Thrones). But we can celebrate effort. We can celebrate laughter. We can celebrate a weekly experience millions of people share on Thursday evenings. And yes, we can even celebrate creative missteps that might have been made now that we know better. But please, don’t shoot the messengers (in this case, the artists). Or the watchers (in this case, the fans). Your ideas about how things should have been (or, even more ideal, how things can be) might be better served by creating your own forms of art.
When in doubt, Bark
Many of us have already realized that our family pets can often be our best mentors when it comes to living with more presence in every moment—not to mention being our authentic selves and loving unconditionally. But as this new year is dawning, and we remind ourselves to do less complaining and live with more gratitude, we can also look to dogs for another helpful reminder.
Like many of you reading this, I often find myself getting caught up in the angst of the everyday. So many things demand our attention—our phones, computers, TVs, and even friends and family. Add a would-be disaster or two to the mix (whether happening to us directly or something we become enraged about after reading or watching the news), and we all have the potential to come undone. And this is to say nothing of financial, physical, or medical ailments that can suddenly remind us of how fragile our world—and even our lives—are.
We see examples of victimhood all the time on social media (friends who lament about everything they’re going through on Facebook, for example), the news (politicians who gripe about witch hunts when they’ve clearly brought much of the hullabaloo surrounding them on themselves), and in the mirror. That’s right. Even you and I have the potential to catch ourselves living life with a “glass-half-empty” mentality—quick to list our complaints to anyone who asks rather than tell people what’s good in our lives. (And yes, no matter what we might be going through, there are always positive things that can be acknowledged.)
At moments like these, when catching ourselves complaining and listing why we’re miserable (as if we’re in a contest to win “most troubled of the month”), I suggest thinking of a three-legged dog, who for one reason or another has had one of his or her legs amputated. As someone who volunteers his time with animal rescue groups, this is something I see fairly regularly (with both dogs and cats). And for anyone reading this who has a canine, you have likely seen a three-legged dog if you’ve taken your pooch to a dog park in recent years.
Think about that three-legged dog you might have seen. I bet he or she was playing. Chasing. Digging. Provoking. Cuddling. Drinking water. Watching cars. In other words, doing just about everything except bemoaning not having as many limbs as other dogs in the park. A three-legged dog never approaches its owners with a victim mentality. Even without the gift of speech, these dogs with amputated limbs communicate joy. Happy as can be. Never limited by whatever circumstances they’ve encountered up till then.
The same is true with cats and kittens who might not have use of their hind legs and have to drag themselves to move or play (and have to rely on kind humans to “express” them several times a day since they can’t go to the bathroom on their own). And yet, I’ve seen these beautiful creatures playing with toys, accepting belly rubs, and purring voraciously. No complaints. No constant listing of the trials they’ve lived through.
I challenge anyone who’s met a three-legged dog or pet to think of an exception. These are happy animals who are dedicated to living their lives to the fullest. No need to announce they’re different. That they’re missing a limb. Or that they’ve lived through trauma before this moment.
So why do we, as humans, feel the need to post, announce, or discuss whatever challenges we might be going through with anyone who asks how we’re doing? Of course, we can discuss important issues with close friends or a therapist when it has the potential to lead to problem-solving, acceptance, and inner growth. But otherwise, we’re just trumpeting our losses to anyone who will listen—spreading more fear, anxiety, and regret into the world.
Life can be about joy—no matter what we might be facing or going through. Following the lead of a three-legged dog doesn’t mean we are ignoring our circumstances, just that we’re choosing to live our best lives no matter what else is going on. Imagine the example we’d be setting for others—whether family members, children, work associates, friends, or even strangers. Suddenly, we could be a three-legged dog in human form, with or without all our limbs. Accepting. Happy. Joyful. Present. (And for this, we’d definitely deserve a treat!)
Photo Source: golfyinterlude/iStock
Recipe: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Honey and Miso
We made Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Honey and Miso for our Friendsgiving dinner. It was a big hit and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone like me who loves Brussels Sprouts.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon red miso paste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
1 lime, halved
¼ cup chopped roasted almonds
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, honey, miso and salt until smooth. Add the brussels sprouts and toss until evenly coated. Transfer the brussels sprouts to a rimmed baking sheet. Spread out in an even layer and scrape every last drop of the honey-miso mixture from the bowl on top.
Roast the brussels sprouts until tender and nicely caramelized, 35 to 40 minutes, tossing halfway through with a spatula. Squeeze the lime juice over top, give the mixture a good toss and transfer to a serving dish. Sprinkle with the almonds, then serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield: 4 servings
Vegan Chipotle Chili Recipe
Perfect for cold winter nights or any time of year, this vegan chili recipe is a real winner for the whole family. (I usually double up the recipe and divide portions into separate containers as a meal prep hack.)
Vegan Chipotle Chili (serves 4-5)
2 tablespoons avocado oil (can use olive oil as a substitute)
1 white onion, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce) can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (12-ounce) can of corn
2 cups vegetable broth (low sodium)
1 (8-ounce) can of chipotle sauce
2 large tomatoes, diced
2 cups quinoa, cooked
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Avocado, for topping
Cilantro, for topping
1. In a large pot, heat avocado oil and sauté onions and garlic. Cook until onions become translucent.
2. Add beans, corn, vegetable broth, chipotle sauce, and tomatoes.
3. Simmer for 10 minutes until tomatoes get tender.
4. Add quinoa and lime juice, then continue to heat for another 5 minutes.
5. Top with avocado and cilantro. Serve warm.
Have you ever put yourself on pause?
Recently, while shopping at a local grocery store, I stopped by its coffee bar to treat myself to a beverage while I shopped. Although the station wasn’t staffed, it had a small bell on the counter that shoppers could ring to call someone over. I noticed several workers nearby who were all helping other customers. So, I decided that I wasn’t going to ring the bell and, instead, would just wait patiently until a worker noticed me standing there.
Sure, I was in a hurry and was definitely looking forward to that shot of caffeine that would be in the small mocha latte I planned on ordering. But I also recognized that waiting patiently would be a good test of my resolve. Why? Because technology has created an over-automated society that expects us to deliver goods and services faster and faster. Therefore, I decided I was going to stand there and wait patiently to break the cycle.
Think about it. Getting evening or late-night emails from supervisors used to be taboo. Now, we feel like we must respond to work-related emails no matter what time of day they arrive (even if it’s during hours that we’re off work). Even friends and relatives sometimes get annoyed if we don’t instantly reply to text messages. Our lives are becoming more harried and more chaotic—as if someone is standing nearby shouting, “Faster! Faster!,” every minute of the day.
Thus, my standing at the coffee bar and waiting patiently without ringing the service bell was going to embody my protest. I could stand there enjoying the moment, waiting for someone else’s timing to accommodate my own.
I’m ashamed to admit that “just standing there” wasn’t easy. My initial thought was to grab my phone and scroll through incoming emails or text messages. But I fought the urge. I didn’t have to be doing anything while standing there other than breathing. Still, I wondered to myself, where do I direct my eyes? What kind of posture do I assume? How, exactly, does someone wait patiently? It was a mystery—mainly because I’ve been a participant in life’s chaos and haven’t paused in several years.
So here I was… Pausing—like a robot that had been temporarily switched off. After what seemed like an eternity (roughly about two minutes), a cheerful employee approached and asked what kind of beverage I wanted.
Like any proud kindergarten student handing in their first homework assignment, I wanted to boast that I’d purposely not rung the bell and then bask in the gratitude. But I caught and circumvented my need for acknowledgment. My being patient was its own reward (as was the small mocha I ordered, which I’ll admit was quite delicious).
I realize that waiting patiently at my local market’s coffee bar was a small act when it comes to patience. And yet, the muscle of patience is one many of us don’t exercise enough. Sure, we are all very busy, and we’re all sometimes facing insurmountable demands and obligations of all kinds. But if we don’t initiate temporary pauses in our lives, who will? Even the smallest patient acts can add up. And those acts begin with us and our choices.
So next time you’re racing for an entrance, consider holding the door open for someone behind you so that they can enter first. You might even allow a car at a four-way road stop to go before your own, even if you have the right of way. Or, if you see a bell on an empty counter, perhaps wait for the employee to return on their own accord rather than banging out a fractured symphony of “I’m in a hurry!”
Lastly, practice patience with yourself. We can do this by stopping and acknowledging the situation we’re in, then taking a few deep breaths. This sounds like a simple act. And the good news is that it is. An act that can help remind us that life doesn’t have to be a race every single second of every single day—and that we deserve patience as much as anyone we might encounter does.
Photo by Yulia Polyakova/Pexels