Supernatural University: Accept, Let Go, And Move On; Lessons from Garth
This is the latest in a series of articles on life lessons we can learn from Supernatural characters. My subject this time is Garth Fitzgerald IV. I think Garth has particularly valuable lessons to teach about living a happy life by accepting that some things are beyond our control and letting go of toxic anger, resentment, and bitterness. Given all the fandom wars and bitchiness lately, I think Garth's is a message that bears study and repetition.
Even before we met him in person, Garth was introduced in Weekend At Bobby's as a quirky screw-up: who could forget Bobby telling off-screen Garth to refer his non-supernatural case to the FBI, only to have Garth promptly call Bobby's fake FBI phone number? Hilariously inept, absurdly self-confident, perfectly laid-back, and utterly un-self-conscious, Garth made a superb foil particularly for focused, intense, driven Dean. Brought to physical life for the first time in Season Seven, Time For A Wedding by the very gifted D.J. Qualls, Garth was played for laughs and provided great comic relief.
But he rapidly developed into something much more. Beginning in Party On, Garth and continuing to the present, Garth became Supernatural's archetypal wise fool. He had all the attributes of a fool right from the very beginning. He was presented as a light-hearted, simple-minded character who was garrulous, physically inept, and totally inconsistent with the common picture of a hunter. Not perceiving himself as the comical figure others saw, however, he was comfortable with doing and saying virtually anything; he lacked the internal censors and the awareness and fear of embarrassment or punishment that constrain most of us to socially accepted behavioral norms. At the same time, he was genuinely sweet, caring, polite, and cheerful, and managed to succeed as a hunter in spite of himself. All of that mixed together made him both likeable and funny.
I submit Bobby Singer's death provided the impetus to make him truly wise.
Bobby had been the show's archetypal wise old man for seven seasons. As surrogate father to Sam and Dean, Bobby was uniquely positioned to observe and comment on the brothers' relationship, imparting wisdom and understanding and applying emotional leverage when necessary. His death left a personal void no one else could ever fill, but the story itself still needed a voice of occasional wisdom. Garth grew into that role.
The thing about the archetypal fool is that he can say anything and get away with it. In literature – the standard brilliant example is Shakespeare's King Lear – the fool is the character who can speak truth to power and not be punished for it, the one whose very simpleness lets him see the truth beneath the deceptively complex surface. The fool often possesses emotional intelligence to offset his lack of factual knowledge and social acceptability.
I think the show's writers have done a stellar job in maturing Garth into a wise fool. It made perfect sense to me in Southern Comfort that Garth, who owed so much to Bobby and was painfully aware of what he'd lost when Bobby died, would seek to pay it forward by attempting to do for other hunters what Bobby had done for him. That started with Garth picking up the phone support and ready reference functions Bobby had supplied, and went on into a form of mentorship, providing his boat as safe haven for Kevin.
Precisely because Garth is a fool, he's also perfectly equipped to be able to see and comment on emotional truths. He can say things to Sam and Dean that they're unable to see in or say to each other. Not bound by the walls of custom each of the brothers has constructed over a lifetime from their own skewed perceptions of themselves and each other, Garth can cut the crap and see the truth. And because as a fool he's harmless, because he's outside their society and the emotional commitment of their family walls, he can get away with saying it. The story – and the brothers – need that. I'm very glad Garth survived through the end of Sharp Teeth, and I wonder if our tame werewolf might even someday wind up being the last man standing at the end of the series because, as Dean noted, someone has to tell their story.
But the point of this little class of mine goes beyond Garth's story function as the wise fool to the core of the personality that made him suitable for that role. I think we could all benefit by learning to be wise as Garth has always been wise: not about things or even about people, but simply about being happy by deciding to be happy.
No matter what happened to him, we never saw Garth unhappy, except in the one scene in Southern Comfort when he lashed back at Dean's anger by exposing his own grief over Bobby's death. He countered his grief by dedicating himself to carrying on Bobby's work, finding a way to accept and move past pain by doing something positive. At the end of the episode, Garth proved immune to the ghost-haunted coin precisely because, as he explained, he never hung on to resentment or anger, instead working out his negative emotions through video games. He advised Dean to do the same, observing simply, “You can't change the past, amigo.”
His situation in Sharp Teeth just carried that further. Bitten by a werewolf, he accepted what he couldn't change. He didn't get bitter about it, and didn't despair. He did resolve to do the right hunter thing and kill himself before he would hurt anyone else, but not before taking a fond look back at his life and celebrating it with his favorite food and games. When Bess intervened and persuaded him he could live as a lycanthrope without hurting people, even becoming part of a family and faith community, he was open to hope and made the leap, and remained fully himself even as he acquired the attributes of the wolf. Despite being bitten, Garth hasn't become a monster; he's kept the pure simplicity of his nature and his human caring for others.
Garth personifies something I was always raised to believe: that while you can't control everything that happens to you, you can control how you react to it, and your attitude – not your situation – is the single biggest determinant of your happiness. We all run into things that make us angry, that disappoint us, that hurt us. If we dwell on those things and how much they upset us, we live in those negative emotions. Repeating our anger and dissatisfaction without doing something to positive to counteract or simply move away from it just reinforces and magnifies the negativity. When we cling to it and constantly harp on it, we trap ourselves in it – rather the way Sam and Dean have. When we let it go instead, following Garth's path, we open ourselves to new possibilities and happiness.
Yes, I've said all this before. But with Garth's example so very present, I had to say it again.
Let go of anger over things you can't change. Do something positive to find happiness instead.