Life Lessons From Bones

I want fiction to make me feel things – humor, tenderness, inspiration, hope – and if that’s all it does, it’s served its purpose in my life. It doesn’t have to be profound.

But that doesn’t mean something I read or watch can’t point things out to me occasionally that I’m better off for it having done so, and I noticed a few years ago that Bones sometimes does that.

So I started keeping a list, and thought I’d share a few of them while things are slow. None of these are particularly new ideas, but sometimes an old idea presented in a new way can touch us in an unexpected way.


Son, listen. I know you wish some things could’ve been resolved. Closure, they call it. But life is just a lot of loose ends.”  (Hank, The Male in the Mail)

It was when Pops said this that it first occurred to me that the show often offers up quiet truths about life.

Hollywood seems to have two extremes on issues like the one between Booth and his father: that they all get wrapped up neatly with a bow in an hour or two, or that the opposite is true, and that things happen to us that not only can’t be resolved, but which permanently wreck our lives.

I’m pretty sure the truth is somewhere in the middle. Sometimes we do get that closure – we get an answer, or we have time to resolve something with someone before they’re lost to us. And sometimes, we just don’t, and having someone say just this to us, that not getting that resolution is sad, but okay, is exactly what we need to hear.

But I don’t think Hank just meant sometimes people die before we can resolve things. I think he was also saying that sometimes situations can’t be resolved. Closure implies something nice and neat that can be put away, never again to affect our lives, and I don’t believe our psyches are built that way. We can choose not to be controlled by things in the past, but thinking a conversation will automatically do that for us…no. Life is a messy mosaic of unfinished business that we just have to live with.

The greatest tragedy of life isn’t living with those loose ends; it’s spending the rest of life emotionally hobbled by them. And Booth – the good man, the good dad, who’s moved on and had a successful life in spite of his father – demonstrates that.

Luck is the unknown, mixed with knowledge, instinct, commitment, imagination, and foresight.” (Jessica Watten, The Drama in the Queen)

This reminded me of something I heard a writer say a long time ago. I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have the quote, or even remember who said it. But the idea stuck with me: “Luck is an element in being published, on the level of being struck by lightning, and just about as rare. But as you can increase your chances of being nailed by lightning by standing out in a storm holding a metal rod, you can increase your chances of being published by learning everything you can about writing, and then practicing it. In other words, with hard work, and perseverance. After all, there’s no guarantee the lightning will get you in the first storm.”

Figure out what you want and then work hard for it. Don’t downplay the role of imagination and instinct, and… don’t give up.

Bones Cast

“There’s more than one kind of family.” (Booth, Judas on a Pole)

Let’s be honest: this gets quoted so often, including by me, that it’s nearly a cliché among Bones fans. But it’s still true, and I think it’s worth stepping back and saying, family is important – but not everyone gets the supportive, loving biological family. And you know what? That sucks, so… it’s okay to go make your own.

Your birth family doesn’t have to be as screwed up as Brennan’s and Booth’s to justify doing just that. Maybe you’re just the square peg in a lot of round holes. Maybe they love you, but don’t get you; maybe they want to love you but are too screwed up by their own circumstances to do so, and yes, maybe they’re evil and don’t deserve you. Whatever the reason, find people — good people, people who get you and are capable of love – and make them your family.

(And hey, if you’re one of the people who won the family lottery and have an amazing, awesome biological family? Good for you! Now go find other people to be more family to you. We can never have too many people in our lives to love.)

So yes, Booth nailed this, but don’t look longingly at the made-from-scratch family on Bones…go make your own.

“Offer up a little bit of yourself every once in a while. Just, tell somebody something you’re not completely certain you want them to know.” (Angela, Pilot)

Ah, but what if you really don’t know how to find those people who’ll become your family? The show offers this advice, from before Booth and Brennan were family to one another.

People form bonds in a lot of different ways, but intimacy often begins with taking the time to really hear what others are saying – and then offering something of yourself back. Trust them. Not unwisely, not with your greatest secret, not right away. But just something that costs you.

I had everything. But the truth is, nobody gets everything. We get what we love most. And sometimes it’s hard to know what that is.” (Finn, The Turn in the Urn)

I had to step back a bit and chew on this for a while, because my knee-jerk reaction was but ‘not everyone gets what they love the most.’ But you know, I think Finn is right.

It can be hard to know what it is we love most, because that’s not always the same as what we want most. In the episode, we see that Finn has his career, and thanks to the hot sauce, money, and…no longer has Michelle. And he seems to recognize that he’s not sure himself what matters the most to him, however deep his feelings for her.

Every day, we make a thousand decisions – what to wear, what to do, how to do it, whether or not to speak to someone, and if so, what words to use. And every one of those choices has put us where we are today.

Here’s the difficulty: The great majority of those small, seemingly insignificant decisions are unconscious ones, made more out of habit than anything else. (I had the same thing for breakfast this morning I’ve had nearly every day for the last ten years.) And while my breakfast was fine – it’s a nice healthy one of whole grains and fruit – quite often, choices made by rote aren’t really leading us where we want to go, aren’t helping us to have what we most love.

So…where I am today, largely the result of habits, which may or may not be good for me…is it where I really want to be? Giving me what I love the most? Are my unconscious choices and habits working for me, or against me? Do they really reflect what I love and want the most? And is it possible that what I have right now is what I most love, based on the unconscious choices I’m making to keep it?


Sometimes you just have to dance to the music that’s given to you.” (Booth, Big in the Philippines)

We may get what we love most, but it’s not without cost, heartbreak, and disappointment. Sometimes, life just screws us over, and that’s the moment we can either give up and leave the dance floor, or fight to make a life worth having out of something we never wanted.

Whatever life throws at you, find the positive in it. Dance.

Wendell decides to fight. He may lose, but given a choice between being remembered as a guy who tried to sleep with as many women as possible before dying, and in being remembered as a fighter, he chooses the latter.

Brennan? Abandoned at a young age, she took the one thing she had that no one could take from her, her intelligence, and made an amazing life out of it.

Booth? Not everyone will agree with me here, but when Brennan convinced him that no meant no, he accepted her answer and opened himself to love with someone else.

(And then, proving the truth of Finn’s “we get what we love the most,” he wound up with Brennan anyway, I think because he wouldn’t walk away from their partnership, and neither would she – choices that took them right back to what they loved most..)

As long as a person has enough, they don’t need more. I’ve got more than enough.”  (Hodgins, The Ghost in the Killer)

Most of us don’t have to look far to see lives ruined by the idea that more is always better, at least where money is concerned. But there are also those who have it figured out. A colleague recently told me of a friend of his who gets $100,000 every year from his grandmother’s estate. One fourth of the money goes to charity, half of it goes to a trust fund for their kids, and the last fourth pays for a nice vacation.  Nearing retirement, he and his wife both still work, ‘so they won’t kill each other out of boredom.’

I was struck by how sensible that was, and wise. They know what they need, not only in terms of cash, but also in having something productive to do every day. The money supports the life they want, rather than their lives being about the money, and I think that’s very much what we see from both Hodgins and Brennan.

That much anger and bile? I don’t want to spend one more minute in that than I have to.  She stole my identity.  She doesn’t get my soul, too.” (Cam, The Spark in the Park)

We only have one life to live – ours. No one else is responsible for our happiness, and no one else should be responsible for our misery. Are there things I wish were different in my life but which are out of my control due to other people? Yes. A thousand times yes.

But the greatest tragedy of all is to choose bitterness over happiness – all the while blaming someone else.

You should never apologize for being happy. You go, be happy.” (Finn, The Turn in the Urn)

Which leads right into this idea, that it’s okay to be happy. There are always people in the world (and let’s be honest – many of them congregate on the web) who want to spoil others’ joy, want to do everything in their power to make others as unhappy as they are.

Don’t let them. Choose to be happy, and don’t apologize for that.

I was going to end this here, and that’s a pretty good place to do so. But then there’s this, which I love, and which sums up so much of what the show gives us:

At the end of the day, we’re all going to make mistakes. We’re all going to do things we regret, even to those we care about. It’s unavoidable. But at the end what matters is how you address your failings…how you treat your family…how you treat your friends…how you forgive, and how you love.” (Charles, the victim in The Lady on the List)




6 thoughts on “Life Lessons From Bones

  1. Thank you 🙂 I took away so much from your whole article, I love this part….
    (We only have one life to live – ours. No one else is responsible for our happiness, and no one else should be responsible for our misery. Are there things I wish were different in my life but which are out of my control due to other people? Yes. A thousand times yes.

    But the greatest tragedy of all is to choose bitterness over happiness – all the while blaming someone else.)
    Yes. A thousand times yes. :):)

  2. Pingback: A Bones Season Ten Retrospective: Favorite Moments | Lunatic Worlds

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