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Fringe: Grief, Letting Go, and Faith in “6B”

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The central theme to the plot of Season 3’s fourteenth episode, “6B”, is “letting go”. Olivia had to let go of what happened between Altivia and Peter if she wanted to have a relationship with him, and Mrs. Merchant had to let go of her husband to close the hole her grief was creating.

By not letting go of her husband after his death, Mrs. Merchant helped thin the fabric between the universes, thus potentially creating a deadly vortex.  While the whole vortex part is (thankfully) something we don’t see in our world, fact is that letting go is quite a problem.

Of course this doesn’t mean that Mrs. Merchant should just forget about her husband. For those of us who believe in an afterlife, the dead are consorts in all the world of God. Then again, detachment doesn’t mean forgetting; in this specific case, it means keeping the memory of her spouse alive while at the same time living her own life. Peter sums it up beautifully when he tells Mrs. Merchant that: “you have already had what most of us only dream of: a lifetime with the person that you love.” While living without Mr. Merchant’s physical presence is no doubt hard, is Mrs. Merchant doing his memory justice by dwelling on her pain?

Detachment is a curious thing, and reflection on the topic often brings out perceived dichotomies. For example, some would say that Mrs. Merchant grieving intensely is a reflection of her deep love for her spouse. The implication seems to be that were the grief not as intense, the love isn’t either. However, while “all that has been created is for man […] who must be thankful for the divine bestowals”. Isn’t gratitude something positive, something through which we can “learn to understand life as a divine benefit”? This implies that Mrs. Merchant’s deep love for her husband for her husband, if expressed through deep gratitude, could have just as well have reflected just as deep a love.

Can gratitude come in times of deep pain? I think so; I think we can definitely “be happy and pass our time in praises, appreciating all things”. However, “there is something else: detachment. We can appreciate without attaching ourselves to the things of this world. It sometimes happens that if a man loses his fortune he is so disheartened that he dies or becomes insane. While enjoying the things of this world, we must remember that one day we shall have to do without them”.

One of the quotes on detachment which I found most interesting is: “Detachment does not consist in setting fire to one’s house, or becoming bankrupt or throwing one’s fortune out of the window, or even giving away all of one’s possessions. Detachment consists in refraining from letting our possessions possess us. A prosperous merchant who is not absorbed in his business knows severance. A banker whose occupation does not prevent him from serving humanity is severed. A poor man can be attached to a small thing.” There is an intersting story about a king who abandons his kingdom to live a life of detachment with a nomad. This nomad, whose only possession was his bag, lost his one possession, and became absolutely distraught. The king, therefore, with all the possessions gladly left behind, was more detached than the the nomad.

What does all of this imply for Mrs. Merchant, who tells Peter about her spouse that “he was part of me… And then he was gone”?

I’m lucky in that I have not experienced that sort of pain. I don’t quite know how people make it through though. It does come to mind that faith has an important part to play in becoming detached. The reflection Mrs. Merchant shared with Olivia near the end of the episode is very interesting in this regard: “I’m not sure I’ll ever really understand what happened. And I’m not sure it would make any difference if I did. You know… Today was something I never could have imagined. But if the impossible is possible, who’s to say that someday, I won’t see him again?”

Back to the world of Fringe, there is another interesting implication to this plot. As Olivia posits, the vortex wasn’t about physics, but about people; what Walter names emotional quantum entanglement is at the centre of the world of Fringe.

Mrs. Merchant’s grief for her spouse, reflected by Mr. Alter-Merchant’s grief for his spouse, could have caused a vortex; could a powerful positive force be reflected in the physical world with something positive? More specifically, could the love that both Olivia and Altivia have for Peter somehow help strengthen said fabric?

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