This month brought the end of Grey’s Anatomy for me with the retirement of Sandra Oh as Cristina Yang, and it was so hard to say goodbye to a character that I loved and admired so much. I was captivated by Yang from the very first episode. I watched desperately and devotedly for ten years, magnetically and intrinsically drawn to every step of her story, right through to her last words to Mer, which I keep replaying in my mind, seemingly unable to let go of their truth and desperately wanting to live them.
While the show will go forward without Yang, I will not go forward with the show, because for me, she was always the make or break character. Yang was the reason I tuned in week after week, year after year, despite ups and downs, ebbs and flows. She was fascinating, different, strong, and I loved and understood her, even when others hated her and yelled at their screens, wanting her to cave.
To be softer.
I felt the opposite. I was happy every time Yang didn’t cave, even if it broke our hearts. I loved how true she stayed to herself, no matter how hard it got, how much easier it might have been to give in, to give up little pieces of herself that she might never get back. I liked the hardness, even when it hurt people or offended people, because it made her soft moments so much better and truer. I loved her honesty about everything, because I didn’t have to guess what was going on inside her head. She was always brave enough to share it.
Her failure to compromise herself and beliefs came with much strife, many challenges, and sometimes what seemed like too much loss for someone to handle, but every struggle felt worth it. Every conflict was another chance to reassert herself and her dreams without apology.
She grew as a character and a person, but she did it without becoming small or less than herself. She grew without conforming and with single-minded focus. She did it while standing over vents, dancing in her underwear, downing tequila shots, screaming, crying, loving, aching, trying anything, risking everything, and always, above and beyond anything else, believing in herself. It’s that kind of passion and confidence I most want to find and embrace in myself.
What I liked best about Yang was the way she boldly and openly embraced who she was and what she wanted from her life and the world, regardless of opinion and typical norms that are widely accepted and encouraged for women. She was not an extraordinary career woman who didn’t want children but caved over time and became a devoted mother and wife, as so many other characters have done. No, she held strong to who she was and what she wanted, even when nobody around her found it easy to accept or understand her choices. In the midst of enormous pressure, she held fast to herself, refusing to give away small pieces that she might never get back.
She was even willing to walk away from epic love, because it came with too many strings and restrictions that would constrict her, redefine her, force her to renegotiate her dreams. Even though it broke my heart and her own, I admire how this character knew herself deep down to her core, and she stood by herself. When faced with happiness or love, she chose happiness, even though it had to start with heartbreak.
There are times in life, when we should bend, negotiate, reconsider, and there are times when we should not. People rarely talk about those times when we should not. As a woman, I hear frequently how relationships are about compromise and so little about how to hold fast to myself and know where to draw lines in the sand. I’ve been told time and again that people can’t have it all, and I know there’s truth in that.
What I don’t believe is that we should be expected to give up dreams as a right of passage into womanhood. It is not better to sacrifice our hopes for today’s norms of family and home. It is simply different. While that might be the right path for some women, might even be their biggest dreams and hopes for themselves, it is not for everyone. I want to live in a world where a woman can say, “I don’t want children,” and not be told by another woman, with a knowing smirk, that she’ll change her mind.
Why must she?
Her choices need not threaten someone else’s life choices.
Cristina Yang is a character that I’ve heard many of my Middle-of-Nowhere-Missouri female, Grey-loving friends call “harsh” or “dark” or “unfeminine” or “unnatural,” but for me, she’s always been perfection.
Honesty can be harsh.
Dreaming different can be confused with darkness.
She’s everything I wish all women could be: strong, determined, motivated, and true to herself.
As for unnatural, it’s time for women to stop judging each other. If it’s acceptable for a woman to give birth to two beautiful children and live the picket fence dream, it should also be acceptable for a woman to choose not to do those things.
I think Yang showed the world that it’s possible to be different and think different and still be amazing. . . and happy. While I was not ready to say goodbye to her character, never could have been, I believe her journey can be a lesson and inspiration to everyone, even those who stick closer to the norms.
I hope to one day write a character with this much depth: one who will help redefine the norms and both infuriate and inspire people, one who may waiver or bend but does not break, one who refuses to sacrifice her own dreams to live inside someone else’s dream. Yang was exciting and refreshing, and she made the show worth watching, no matter how I felt about the other characters or story lines. As always, I’m sad to see such a good thing come to an end, but I’m hoping she’ll be the kind of character who will live on in people’s hearts and minds for a very long time.
Now that her time has passed, it seems only fitting that I stop watching her journey and start being true to my own, and as I do, I’ll remember all the lessons she taught me about being an amazing woman and her final words of advice to us all:
Don’t let what he wants eclipse what you need.
He’s very dreamy but he is not the sun.