So there we were Sunday afternoon, having a nice lunch of sardines with Brie, pickled things and crackers. For some reason or another, E.T. was on TV and we were telling each other stupid E.T. factoids. Michael said something about every kids closet in America looking like Gertie's stuffed animal closet with E.T. hiding among the toys. I told Michael how the science teacher in that movie is Harrison Ford. The movie got closer to the end and tears welled up in my eyes as I crammed a cracker in my mouth. I sniffled and Michael looked over at me. I just shrugged and said "every time." That movie gets to me every dang time I see it. I know it's coming. I've seen this movie dozens of times. Every child of the 80s, including me can quote this movie, so I know what's going to happen at the end. Yet every time, we get to the end of that movie, I turn into a sobbing mess. E.T. is not the only movie that does this to me. Up, The Color Purple, Little Women. There's a slew of others.
There's just something about all the goodbyes at the end, E.T. telling the older brother "thank you" and a sobbing Gertie to "be good". The moment that truly stabs me in the heart is that final goodbye between Elliot and E.T. E.T. looks at Eliot and says "come" and Eliot's answer is to say "stay". Just that simple tug-o-war of words is the moment that breaks me. It's when a simple movie about a boy and an alien becomes this complex story of love and loss and learning to say goodbye. Eliot is not just saying goodbye to E.T. He's saying goodbye to a part of his childhood. He will never be the same Eliot, forever changed by his connection to E.T. and how something that sounds unbelievable has the possibility to be believable. Every one of us has been that age where we believed in something that couldn't be possible. Fairies. The Loch Ness Monster. Witches. Aliens. Ghosts. Then there comes a time when most of us just stop believing. But it's the stay or go part that is the strongest most painful struggle for me in this movie.
What if it were that easy to just say yes to going, to getting on the space ship? Or if you look at it from E.T.'s side, staying on a foreign planet? Of course I know why E.T. couldn't stay here. Human beings in general are just not kind to things drastically different from us. He would never be free to explore and learn or just simply enjoy the wonder that is our planet. The thing I never understood was why Eliot couldn't go. I've never been able to tell if he just didn't want to go or if he just realized he was needed more by his own family. Maybe he was scared. I don't know. All I can think is that I would go. I would have hopped right on up into that space ship. I would have then and there's a part of me that would still get on that space ship today. I don't see it as an escape as much as I see it as an opportunity for a great adventure.
Except...I wouldn't. The things that compel us to stay or go are bigger and stronger and more complex than possibilities of grand adventures. I think I understand that more than I even want to understand it. I'll be right here.