Culture - Living the Happy Valley of Lent

The last few months have seen the British public caught up in the frenzy of the last “Happy Valley” season and last episode. Everywhere one goes, people are discussing it. My husband and I have started watching the series, from Season 1. We are now – with high anticipation – ready to watch THE final episode (possibly this very night). Dodging “spoilers” has become a daily sporting activity.

What does the Happy Valley craze have to do with Lent? Like everyone watching this series, it became apparent early on that there is nothing remotely “happy” in this Valley. Human nature, greed, suffering, angst, broken relationships, addiction, mental illness all rear their ugly heads. This Yorkshire community might well be seen as a microcosm of issues impacting the 21st century western world - or indeed – life in all eras. Interspersed with the sadness are truly meaningful scenes between the main characters and there is (almost?) nobody in this series we don’t feel deep seated empathy for, as well as frustration with, and at some points, towards some characters, anger and horror.

Part of the experience of watching Happy Valley – at least for me – has been confronting my own value base and my own commitment to both my social work values (unconditional positive regard for all people) and – more important – my Christian values (forgiveness and redemption is possible for all). There are characters in this series that have made me question the nature of evil, and if someone is so far down that path, there is no turning back. How far does someone’s traumatic background explain their actions making them not accountable – can we say - “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do”? And even beyond what looks like true evil – what about the characters who make one bad choice, and suddenly the bad choices are flowing into an inevitable tragic end? Are those who “slipped” into evil inadvertently more responsible than those who had traumatic childhoods that might excuse their actions? I have very few answers but many questions.

Lent is a time of reflection and also a time of preparation for the Passion. Our Lord - the only innocent man who has ever walked the earth - went to his death while “we” cheered, nailed him up, and watched Him suffer. His disciples ran the gamut from performing directly evil actions (Judas) – to behaving cowardly, repeatedly (Peter). Pilot caved into the calls of the crowd, “washing his hands” of the whole business, and Roman soldiers stole the clothing of a dying and suffering man. Murder, fear, greed, and anguish overshadowed the death of the truest Love that ever came down to earth. And everyone was complicit.

Many Catholics throughout the ages have used art – paintings, films, books and poetry – to show the Passion. I think Happy Valley, in its own way, is a re-telling of the depths we as humans can descend to. And yet – it is also a re-telling of the small (and big) acts of love that can herald in redemption. There are characters who (flawed, to be sure) “try” to make the hard and loving choices – even when we are yelling from the other side of the television that it’s the wrong choice – but the choice comes from a place of “good”. There are characters who show a journey towards healing, backsliding, but coming back that little bit stronger. Most important there are a few characters who clearly want to live fully compassionate lives, but in this messy world, stumble in their actions.

And what about the ultimate redemption of Easter? We know our Lord forgave his killers, even on His dying breath. We know Lent ends and our Lord rises in triumph. We KNOW that love wins in the end. We celebrate it every Easter Day, we wait for it. We hold on to it all through all of Lent – all through our lives, to be honest – when it truly feels that “nothing” will be right again. Our faith is sometimes nothing but believing the ongoing Passion in our lives WILL come to end, and we will see the Beatific Vision. There are days when its almost impossible to believe – but we hold on to that “thread”.

I am hoping when I watch the final episode tonight of Happy Valley that redemption shines through. I hope there is something to make me believe that “all” is forgivable in our Lord’s eyes. I hope we get to finish this series with a little bit of Easter Day, and a little bit of joy. I don’t know “how” this can be – there is no indication going into the last episode that any joy is on the horizon – but then, nobody knew, on the devastating day our Lord died on the Cross – He would rise again. And He did. With God “all is possible”.  And that is what we hold on to.  

Tamara Horsburgh