It was important for me that Dale’s actions in Home Again be seen as that of a person who made peace on a very profound level, to demonstrate this kind of complete acceptance and wholeness can be achieved, and that the freedom produced not only impacts the person embodying it, but those with whom they engage.
What I didn’t address was why, during her interactions with Oliver and Shane, that Dale took an extra step to knit the pair together in the complex context of “lines, rules and colors,” during what would have otherwise appeared rather superficial conversations.
For this we need the lens of the meaning of Dale’s name applied in several contexts: the role it required her to assume in the context of Oliver and Shane’s relationship up until this point, how Dale executed that role in a new way in Home Again, as well as the less discussed consequence Dale’s name had for her own growth and development in the series.
Remember that the name "Dale" means "valley" or "lives in the valley", and her surname, "Travers" means to cross. She is literally named "valley to cross." And Dale embodied these meanings in a few unique ways. First, she acted as a guidepost, representing the aspect of the “valley” that Oliver or Shane needed “to cross” or grow out of (or into), as well as stood as a marker by which that progress or growth could be assessed or achieved. Second, she literally guided them out of the spiritual or emotional/relational stagnation holding them back. But Dale’s assignment didn’t end there, as she also guided Shane and Oliver into relationship with each other in Home Again.
Ever since her introduction in From The Heart, Dale has been a representation of the past in some capacity.
Not coincidentally, her narrative emerged at the exact time Oliver was preparing to move out of the spiritual and relational valley in which he resided for the better part of sixteen years. It was a period of time during which Dale was a silent constant in his life, a woman in whom he was interested but failed to pursue, whose intersection with his work life led to his pursuit of “restor[ing] what was lost” in his current professional capacity. In the present, she was a soprano with whom he sang in choir. All this time, and nothing more had become of their relationship.
By One In A Million she became a foil for Holly, an ever-present reminder of what was at stake for Oliver, which found him in the Mailbox Grille literally at a critical crossroads where he had to choose between the new, the risky, his practically perfect fit in Shane, or more of the same with Dale. Dale’s primary purpose was to stand as the holistic representation of his emotional and relational stagnation (Holly aside), which provided Oliver the guidepost against which he could grow out of that valley by choosing Shane.
For Shane, Dale presented a unique mirror in that both women shared considerable similarities, including a history with Oliver. Yet Dale shared the additional tie of faith, which Shane had yet to completely figure out for herself. This spiritual stagnation, in a sense, was contrasted by the fact that Shane’s ability to relate to Oliver was considerably less “clumsy” than Dale, who reminded me very much of Shane in the early days of the series. With Dale as the guidepost, Shane had come a long way in crossing her relational valley with Oliver, but had ground ahead in her spiritual valley to cross on the way to truly understanding him at a core level. Fortunately for Shane, Dale was about to come alongside and assist her on that journey.
Dale’s participation in Lost Without You was a continuation---and in some ways a completion---of the work begun in From The Heart and One In A Million. Their required areas of growth established and in progress, it was Dale’s job to move Oliver and Shane out of the valleys of relational and spiritual stagnation they had begun to cross completely.
For all intents and purposes, God was the catalyst for Oliver’s wilderness encounter and required credit for the spiritual growth he achieved therein. Prepared by his spiritual growth and the relational healing achieved with his father, Oliver was ready to be reunited with Shane. And being her duty as the guide to show Oliver out of his emotional and relational valley completely, Dale had to point Oliver to Shane, whom she had helped prepare for their reunion.
Pressing more and more into questions of faith throughout Lost Without You, Dale facilitated Shane’s pursuit to cross her spiritual valley. This is signified by their much-discussed exchange about prayer, which ultimately empowered Shane to “make the call” that not only brought Oliver home, but unlocked a new spiritually-based space in her relationship with him. Called on to assist in locating Oliver, Dale fulfilled her role as a guide by facilitating Shane’s ability to find Oliver in a literal and figurative sense. This valley crossed, Dale completed her assignment in this aspect by directing Oliver to Shane when the time was right.
The Last Assignment
Having guided them out of their valleys, Dale was charged with guiding Shane and Oliver into relationship in Home Again. The complex and nuanced process by which Dale achieved this was the crux of The Art Of Letting Go. This partially answered the question of why she was compelled to provide additional nuggets of wisdom to Shane and Oliver about how to relate to each other---it was the true completion of the role she was called to fulfill.
But solidifying Oliver and Shane’s relationship necessarily required Dale let go completely of something she had been latching onto for a very long time. Dale's assignment wasn’t simply for the benefit of Oliver and Shane, but for herself, too.
A Valley Crossed?
Dale herself resided in a relational valley, where her long-term friendship with Oliver never blossomed into anything more, leaving the situation in a prolonged state of limbo. A wise friend put it to me like this, “Reminds me of the old ‘If we're not married to other people when we hit ____ age, we'll get married’ thing.” And I’m inclined to agree. Perhaps she didn’t want to ruin the friendship too soon by pursuing anything more, so settled in instead?
But Dale’s problem was also one of complacency. You would have thought Oliver’s “marriage” to Holly would have served as the wakeup call Dale needed to realize her feelings towards Oliver rose above the level of “just friends”--- but it’s clear it did not. Instead, she held onto their comfortable friendship based in mutual interests and shared faith, but which never grew in a meaningful way during that sixteen year stretch. We saw the evidence of this non-growth during several interactions between Dale & Oliver in One In A Million.
It wasn’t until Oliver began to transition out of the relational valley they shared that Dale moved to action. She had taken Oliver, and his availability, for granted, which Shane’s presence clearly exposed and brought to the fore. While “the timing was never right back then,” as Dale told Shane of her relationship with Oliver in Lost Without You, her statement implied that perhaps the right time had arrived. But, indeed, it had already passed. That was never more evident than when Oliver asked Dale, “Where is Shane?” at the end of the film.
There's no question this reality had to be painful. Dale did a good job of keeping it together herself in Lost Without You, but I'm not sure Dale ever truly embraced her feelings for Oliver---or had the opportunity to recognize their depth---until faced with the prospect of maybe never seeing him again. But by then it was already too late, and Shane was a glaring reminder of that. She wouldn't even take the credit when Oliver thanked her---she hadn't been the one to start looking for him. When Oliver asked "Where is Shane?" Dale's heart visibly broke---"nothing [had] finally happened."
With Oliver very clearly set on Shane and vice versa, Dale had no choice but to accept the fact that the comfortable friendship she enjoyed with Oliver, and the deep feelings she had silently developed, would never turn into anything more. For Dale, this acceptance was a true first step to exiting her valley. To exit completely required ending the uncertainty in her relationship with Oliver face-to-face, letting go of any desires or expectations, and translating what was in her heart into verbal expression. Dale did this by supporting and encouraging Oliver’s pursuit of Shane in Home Again.
When Dale expressed she was “really happy for him” and explained that he “could use a little shaking up,” she followed up by disqualifying herself by virtue of the fact she and Oliver were so similar in their approach to problem-solving. In this moment, Dale released Oliver to move on, reaffirming the direction, and person, with whom he’d chosen to do so. The lines were drawn, and Dale responded accordingly. Dale surrendered her wants and expectations out of the realization she was not Oliver’s best fit, wanting what was best for the man she cared so much about. At the same time, however, she freed herself from “living in limbo [to start] living her life,” which was the ultimate embodiment of her name, and her destiny as a character.
Dale served a multi-dimensional purpose deeply tied to the meaning of her name. Not only did she challenge valleys in which Oliver and Shane resided, she skillfully moved them towards growth and eventually towards each other. All the while Dale was also positioning herself for the growth required to exit her own personal valley and towards freedom.
Surveying The Landscape,
The Art Of Letting Go: Part I | Part II