There’s a saying, ‘life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.’ In the process of growing up we set goals, map out a plan for reaching them, and then begin to move forward. Except sometimes we find the universe has surprises in store for us, as did the staff of Seattle Grace/Mercy West after a gunman came to the hospital seeking vengeance for the loss of his wife. Now the surgical service staff faces the task of sweeping up the rubble and figuring out what their map looks like in the wake of this tragedy.
Some of them have found renewed purpose, like Derek Shepherd who decries being Chief of Surgery in favor of stepping once again into the role of surgeon. Others are more circumspect, taking pause before fighting their way to the surface, like Lexie Grey who initially becomes even more Lexipediac, to the point of interacting largely in facts and figures until she once again finds the confidence to assert herself as a woman and as a doctor. Some even try to pretend they are unchanged, including Alex Karev who boasts he’ll keep the bullet in his chest as a war wound. Still others face a life that has taken on directions they’re uncertain how to pursue, like Meredith Grey who can’t figure out how to face having watched her husband get shot and that she had a miscarriage in the same day.
Yet what they will all find is that what we initially imagine to be interference with our chosen path actually provides us with valuable, if hard won, lessons. The opportunity for rebirth that follows such a traumatic event is a process of both pain and healing, a tearing down of our foundations in exchange for a new kind of faith in the future. And no one’s stories display this more abundantly than those of Owen Hunt and Cristina Yang.
When we say things like "people don't change" it drives scientist crazy because change is literally the only constant in all of science… It's the way people try not to change that's unnatural. ... Change is constant. How we experience change that's up to us. It can feel like death or it can feel like a second chance at life. If we open our fingers, loosen our grips, go with it, it can feel like pure adrenaline. Like at any moment we can have another chance at life. Like at any moment, we can be born all over again.
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In addition to having regained his emotional equilibrium by professing his love for and marrying Cristina, Owen’s healing is evident as he steps further into a leadership role at work. In an attempt to ensure the staff around him would be better prepared to face another workplace disaster, he implores Chief Webber to consider emergency response training and, in the process, wins a $1 million grant.
Charles Percy had a gunshot wound to the abdomen. Miranda Bailey did everything she was trained to do. She gave him fluids, controlled the bleeding, applied pressure. Then she tried to get him to an OR, but she couldn’t. So he died… And she’ll remember him dying in her arms the rest of her life. And I’ll remember… And you’ll remember that we could’ve saved him. We failed her. And we failed Charles Percy, one of our own doctors. I can’t face that… I can’t face that ever again. Can you?
Owen’s words apply equally to his new civilian ‘platoon,’ ill-prepared for the war visited upon them, as much as to his wife, struggling under the weight of her heroism. Cristina faces a professional dilemma. Unable to step into an operating room without going numb inside or, alternately, experiencing Post Traumatic Stress symptoms, she begins to question her life’s direction, to the extent of telling Owen, ‘If I can’t be in there I don’t know where I’m supposed to be.’ This is a question not easily answered yet she begins to make forward progress by stepping more deeply into her marriage with Owen and taking comfort in his words when he tells her, ‘I’m going to stay through it all…I’m not going anywhere Cristina, I’m not going anywhere without you.’
Cristina soon finds herself with a team of friends and colleagues who want to help her regain her footing. Owen stays firmly in Cristina’s corner, supporting her as a husband who understands the derivation of both her commitment to her career path and the jumbled emotions she is experiencing. After Cristina experiences a flashback to the day of the shooting while working alongside Owen and Teddy, Derek requests Cristina work on his service. They share a poignant breakthrough when he walks Cristina through the surgery she performed on him as a way for them both to process the experience. Bailey also offers Cristina the chance to assist in surgery, letting Cristina know she can do so in her own time.
The crossroads at which Cristina finds herself is further complicated when she meets a lung transplant patient with a sardonic wit and a fierce will to live. She finds her professional voice when she advocates for him with the transplant committee. ‘I’ve been involved in 27 transplant surgeries and every time the patient’s will to fight is just as telling and Roy has it.’
And when even performing a procedure that stabilizes Roy’s condition doesn’t reignite Cristina’s former joy in being a surgeon she decides to quit her residency. She tells Owen, ‘you were right…I can do it…I can still be a surgeon…I just don’t want to anymore.’ Ironically, Owen has spent the day running all the other residents through an intense emergency response drill. His frustration over being able to help heal the rest of the residents by offering them the skills necessary to believe in their ability to move through tragedy while not being able to provide a similar professional breakthrough for his wife is palpable.
Running out of ways to channel the energy formerly harnessed by her surgical endeavors, Cristina finds herself at a loss, as does Owen. Watching his wife spin through attempts at decorating their new home and throwing a house-warming party followed by a disastrous run at bartending leaves Owen feeling saddened by the loss of Cristina’s formerly energetic demeanor. However, as Derek warns Owen when he arrives after a long night of surgery to pick up Cristina who is drunk at Joe’s Bar, ‘it’s not as bad as it looks.’
As we reached mid-season we find this cast of characters all poised for growth and healing. Some who were emotionally adrift have begun to find their way back and are, perhaps, prepared to reach out to others and to step into work challenges as a way to regain energy. Others who were more emotionally secure or, perhaps, simply better at hiding how fragile they felt post-shooting, are now wearing down and showing their frailties after attempting too long to keep them hidden. And if we viewers are lucky, this next part of the journey will be as compelling to watch, as the first half of the season has been.