As Rita’s story in Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Home Again revealed, her ability to “leave” was directly proportional to her ability to “cleave” from her need for the support and approval of her father.
For Norman, “leaving and cleaving” meant going “solo.” He already went “solo” in a professional capacity, but he still had steps to take personally on the road to marrying Rita. In Home Again, Norman had to establish himself apart from his “parents” (Shane, Oliver and Papa O’Toole) by exercising vision independent of people, or surrounding circumstances, to develop the skills and perspective required to lead his marriage.
While well meaning, the McInerney/O’Toole family’s coordinated efforts to bridge the gap between Norman and his future father-in-law demonstrated one primary flaw---it didn’t include his input. Without consulting him, Shane decided for Norman not only the nature of the problem, but the manner in which the problem needed resolved. Shane determined that Bill “[didn’t] like [Norman],” and directed efforts at remedying that. Oliver, out of his love for Norman, yielded to Shane’s logic. Joe, clearly attached to Norman by this point, came on board literally without a second thought.
So what’s the problem? Already handicapped by the surprise arrival of Rita’s parents, Shane and Oliver’s response to the deteriorating situation handicapped Norman further by curtailing his agency. Their eagerness to step in undermined a prime opportunity for Norman to go “solo” and exercise leadership to navigate his relationship with Bill not only in the moment, but moving forward. At the same time, Shane and Oliver reinforced the assumption that Bill “[didn’t] like [him],” signaling to Norman that his individual efforts moving forward should be directed at achieving that particular end.
With the decision made on his behalf, Norman had little choice but to pursue the direction chosen for him, and hope his interpretation of what that entailed yielded the desired results.
Terms Of Engagement
Sometime between Bill leaving Norman’s milk offering and that evening, something happened for Norman. I can only conjecture that between the burden of the lost ring, the growing distance in his relationship with Rita, and countless unsuccessful attempts to connect with Bill, that Norman had made it to the end of himself. And I believe it was at that moment he heard the energetic voice of a young girl asking:
“Was there a hole?”
Believe it or not, it’s both a literal, and theoretical, question.
In a literal sense, it was the key perspective Norman needed to finally locate Rita’s long-lost engagement ring, conveniently kicked under his bed and into a snow boot. Finding the ring was the first step in acquiring the peace and clarity needed to regain control of a very fluid and frustrating situation. Finally free of being constantly focused on the missing ring---an important, but short-sighted goal---Norman could once more exercise long-term vision that included how he would present it to Rita. Presenting Rita with the ring necessarily turned Norman away from the subconscious influence of others, and the conflict with Bill, to focus exclusively on his future spouse. As evidenced by his proposal, Norman was once again able to focus on whom he was marrying and why.
Note that Norman also charted this course without the consultation of Shane, Oliver or Joe. In fact, had they ultimately been present for the planned dinner, they would have merely been invited to witness and rejoice in the decision Norman already made to “share [the] miracle with everyone [he] loved.”
With the obstacle of the ring removed, Norman was finally able to conceive of, and address, the deeper issue where Bill was concerned, therefore plugging the theoretical “hole.”
Conditioned to perceive his conflict with Bill as a matter of “likability,” or, along the same vein, “approval,” Norman inadvertently became narrow-minded and, thanks to competing pressures, self-centered. This in and of itself created a “hole” in his understanding of the situation with Bill, because it didn’t account for the very real struggle Bill was experiencing underneath his gruff exterior and sharp comments. Without this understanding, it was clear why Norman’s wide-ranging efforts ultimately failed to yield the desired outcomes up to that point---they simply didn’t address Bill’s core issue. The issue, of course, was Bill not knowing his place.
Throughout the course of the film, Norman’s posture also blinded him to his greatest asset and ally in his struggle---Sunny. As she so lovingly and astutely conveyed to Norman, “[Bill] used to be [Rita’s] hero…now she has two.” By the time she provided Norman with this key perspective, he possessed enough clarity and vision to apply it in the context it was needed.
But perhaps her greatest gift was reassuring Norman, who “wished Oliver was [there]...he [knew] how to handle [these] things,” that Norman did, too. Her simple word of encouragement was just enough to empower Norman to “surprise [Bill],” and, notably, without telling Norman how to do so.
With both his literal and theoretical "holes" filled in, Norman was fully prepared to be bold and re-propose to Rita.
A New Proposal
From the moment he returned to the DLO, Norman exercised a tremendous amount of wisdom and vision.
It began when Norman engaged Bill's "Hey, that was a short dinner" with, "I cancelled it." Not only did Norman have enough confidence to address Bill, out of his vision for proposing to Rita, Norman made the decision to cancel the dinner and adjust his plans to follow through with his original intention. This idea was reinforced by Norman "want[ing] [everyone] to be together for a reason," and even cited the absences of Oliver, Joe and Shane as a point of disappointment, but acknowledged that "things don't always turn out the way you plan."
He used that truth, and applied it in a global context to the vase, and the room into which Shane smashed her way, before directing it towards the ring. Interestingly, his commentary on the ring could also be an analogy for his interaction with Bill. He "thought [he knew] what happened, but one day a light [went] on" and Norman realized that there was a "hole," that, when recognized, led to important discoveries. The ring and Norman's journey explained, he could finally direct his attention to the most important issue.
When Norman proposed to Rita for a second time, he employed a beautiful mix of poetry, wisdom and vision, beginning with his explanation of the ring he chose for her. Like owls, Rita is beautiful, wise, smart, brave, with the ability to "see what no one else can," a clear reflection of not only Norman's thoughtfulness, but the true depth with which he loves and appreciates her. In this moment, Norman used the wisdom gained from Sunny to honor and recognize Bill's role in raising Rita to become the woman he's "grateful" to spend the rest of his life "flying alongside." Norman's ability to not only describe Rita in such a dynamic way, but to attribute the qualities he saw as a product of Bill's parenting, demonstrated an incredible capacity for vision, one that perceived the past, present and future in a continuum in which, through the marriage, Norman is included.
It's a continuum along which Bill recognized and honored Norman's participation not only in the present, but in the future as well. It started with the handshake, but extended to his apology, in which he admitted to Norman that he "taught [Rita] to love but act[ed] like a jerk when [she] went out and did it." Translated, it revealed that Bill's issue did not, in fact, have anything to do with Norman, and that Norman's decision to incorporate him into the proposal was ultimately a wise and compassionate thing to do. That, and the blended bifocals humorously brought to rest, Bill gifted Norman the RV keys. It was not only the gift of a physical object, but a symbolic gift to Norman of the ability to chart the course forward in his marriage to Rita.
At the end of the film, Shane and Oliver stood watching Norman and Rita as they walked the farm, at which point Shane expressed she "wished [they] could have been there to see Norman put the ring on [Rita's] finger." As Oliver correctly identified, "[Norman] just needed to go solo." But, as Shane observed, "going solo isn't always easy."
If anything, Norman's journey to "leave and cleave" from his well-meaning, but ultimately misguided, "parents" in Home Again clearly demonstrated just how difficult "go[ing] solo" can be. Overwhelmed by his first encounter with Bill, Norman struggled to get his bearings. Lacking the proper direction, he exhausted himself to no avail. But when Norman finally took control, he evolved, almost before our eyes, into a man capable of demonstrating wisdom and vision even in the midst of shifting circumstances, when his eyes remained fixed on what was most important---the woman he planned to marry. Once focused on Rita, the rest fell into place. The resulting peace and clarity provided a solid start from which Norman and Rita could "travel on to where the two shall be as one."
Charting A Path,
A Need To Cleave: Rita | Norman