“If you look like your passport photo, then in all probability you need the journey.”
“The journey from ego to soul takes going from a me-full life to a meaningful life.”
—Rabbi David Aaron, quote provided by Dr. Paul Talmadge
In my previous post, titled “Addenda to Blog: Christmas and Our Fifty-First Anniversary,” I offered some quotes, photos, links and other materials on these subjects that had been sent to me after my final regular blog post.
Since that time I have received several related contributions on nostalgia for the past from interested readers. I have also received some fresh inspiration from a current Walt Disney movie titled Saving Mr. Banks that seems to relate to me in a special personal way. Finally, I have also been inspired by two entries from a daily devotional to describe an incident that occurred during the recent holiday/holy day period that spoke to me about my life in a way that may also speak to the lives of many of my readers.
Perhaps each of us needs to begin this “journey from ego to soul” as we enter this new year in our daily lives.
Nostalgia and the Power of Storytelling
“. . . nostalgia for certain values tends to set in
just as they’re disappearing.
Happily, nostalgia can bring those values back, too. . . .
We can choose how we live.
With cheer and faith or temper and worst behavior.”
—Paul Greenberg, “It really is a wonderful life,”
Tulsa World, December 19, 2013
“Did you think that Mary Poppins came to rescue the children?”
—The author of the Mary Poppins books
to members of the Walt Disney film organization
In a composite of several online reviews of the current Walt Disney movie titled Saving Mr. Banks, Disney is quoted as saying to Mrs. J. L. Travers, the author of the books on which he based his 1964 movie Mary Poppins (italics mine):
“That’s what we storytellers do. We restore order through imagination. We inspire people, we give hope. Again and again.”
Then he concludes his remarks to her by stating: “Forgiveness. It’s what I learned from your books.”
In this same vein, Willa Cather, noted author of days gone by, once wrote: “Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.”
That’s why throughout this entire blog my goal, purpose, and efforts have been to share some of my life experiences with others in hopes that through them not only will I somehow “Save Mr. Peacock,” but that I will also perhaps help to save others—even you!
Saving the Present by Recalling the Past
“I’ve got to the age and stage of my life that
the only things I can remember
are the things I cannot stand to recall!”
“Writers are exorcists of their own demons.”
(This is my favorite quote—
it’s what I am doing when I write,
and why I share it on my blog.)
—Mario Vargas Llosa
In one of my endless self-quotes I note: “We preserve the past by writing about it.” But not only can we preserve the past by writing about it, we can also redeem it and benefit from it in facing a new and different set of life experiences.
If you saw that classic 1964 Walt Disney movie titled Mary Poppins, you will recall that Mary Poppins came to the George Banks household in London in response to a simple, childish letter requesting a new nanny written by the two Banks children: Jane and Michael.
In that original Disney version, a sort of compilation based on eight books by author P. L. Travers, Mary Poppins was a pivotal character in the struggle to “save” the seemingly secure Banks household from their daily unresolved and even unacknowledged failures and conflicts.
But Mrs. Travers, the author of the series of Mary Poppins books on which that movie was based, did not approve of the proposed Disney musical film version of it. As such, she would not formally sign a legally binding contract for Disney to produce the film version of her works that she imagined him making: a sort of happy-go-lucky, “feel-good” family musical with a typical Disney “happy ending.”
The new 2013 movie titled Saving Mr. Banks, currently playing in “select theaters” across the country and indeed around the world, is an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look into the reasons Disney wanted to make that “frothy” movie back in 1964, and the conflicting reasons Mrs. Travers did not want it made that way.
I will not spoil the film for those who have not yet seen it, but I will say, as noted by its title, that the story behind the film involves the early life of Mrs. Travers as portrayed through her flashbacks of her childhood, especially those memories that reveal her special but questionable relationship with her own father.
Finally, after repeated conflicts between the “irascible” Mrs. Travers and the “frustrated” Disney screen writers and music composers, the unresolved issue is appealed to the renowned and revered Walt Disney himself. In a crucial conversation between Disney (Tom Hanks) and Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson), the exchange between them reveals much about her way of dealing with her own life, especially her troubled childhood, through her writings.
That crucial confrontation allows Disney the opportunity to draw upon his own difficult childhood in a final attempt to convince Travers why she, as a storyteller, should trust him and his staff to present the message of her precious personal family story in the way they envision it.
Since I am also a storyteller who experiences flashbacks of scenes and incidents from my own idyllic childhood and less than idyllic adulthood, naturally the film was as fascinating to me as it was disturbing and insightful. In a way, and to a certain extent, it was also cathartic, as the final Disney version of her story was to a very reluctant and even skeptical Mrs. Travers.
By some mysterious, “magical” means the final film version of her personal and painful story is brought to the screen in a way that moves her to tears of release and hope for a new life free of those “demons” from her own past. In fact, in a sense, the final resolution of the ongoing conflict between Disney and the author might also be titled “Saving Mrs. Travers.”
That’s why I titled this post “Saving Mr. Peacock.” Because for at least forty-plus years I have been trying to do that very thing—save myself by exorcizing my own demons through my writings and through carefully selected citations of self-quotes and quotations and excerpts from the writings of others.
It is also why I highly recommend viewing this film with that understanding, purpose, and goal in mind. Who knows, it might just save you from your past, whether that past is troubled like Mrs. Travers’, difficult like Mr. Disney’s, or idyllic, nostalgic, and painful to recall like Mr. Peacock’s.
Recalling the Past through Stories
“The road to the future runs through the past.”
—Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Faith:
Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World
“What are we but our stories?”
—James Patterson, Sam’s Letters to Jennifer
In the January 4, 2014, entry in the Episcopal daily devotional Forward Day by Day, the writer says of the importance of stories and storytelling (italics mine):
“Stories unite us and keep us connected. . . . [they allow] us to recall and share with others what has meaning in our lives; the people, places, and events, and all that we hold sacred. Stories are the gospel of our lives. They bear witness to where we have been, what we’ve come through, and Who brought us here. . . . They are the modern stones of remembrance we lay to recall, to impart to others, and to remain connected to God.” (Copyright 2014 Forward Movement. All rights reserved. Used by permission.) (www.forwardmovement.org)
In the January 7 entry of that same devotional it is stated about memory (italics in original):
“When we remember, we do not simply recall, but we reconnect. Our memories keep us connected to home, family, friends and God. . . . Don’t ever forget who you are, where you have come from, and the God who brought you here.” (Copyright 2014 Forward Movement. All rights reserved. Used by permission.) (www.forwardmovement.org)
For more on this subject of recalling and redeeming the past through memory and stories, see my earlier post titled “A Summary of My Personal Spirituality and Pilgrimage” based on Frederick Beuchner’s philosophy of “biography as theology.”
In “American Stories: My Family Tree” by David Laskin in the December 29 issue of Parade magazine, Ancestry.com CEO Tim Sullivan states: “We are where we come from.” This statement reflects my own self-quote and philosophy that “where you’re from is who you are.”
In that sense, “where you’re from” includes not only where you were born and raised but also every place you have ever been, everything you have ever done or experienced, and every person you have ever known, even every story you have ever heard or told.
This is what Disney was trying to tell Mrs. Travers about her stories of the imaginary Mary Poppins, whom it turns out was a real person and not a figment of Mrs. Travers’ fertile imagination. He wanted her to realize that as a storyteller himself, he knew and appreciated the value, importance, and power of storytelling not only to preserve and redeem the past (whether good or bad or otherwise) but also to inspire hope for a better future.
In that sense, storytelling is not only entertaining, it is therapeutic—as much for the ones who recount the stories as for those who hear them and benefit from them.
In conclusion, the following anecdote written at the end of 2013 is an example of the power of a simple story to relate a seemingly insignificant incident from the past and to draw from it a very significant lesson for the future.
“Did You See Any Angels This Christmas?”
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
—Hebrews 13:2 NIV
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
—Matthew 25:40 NIV
After publishing my Christmas/fifty-first wedding anniversary addenda post (see previous post on this blog), I was reminded of another “holiday/holy day” incident that occurred in my life recently. I hope you will draw the same lesson from it that I did.
In light of all the Christmas messages to which we are rightly exposed every year, as a Christian and a religious copyeditor I could not help but do as the Virgin Mary and “keep all these things and ponder them in [my] heart” (see Luke 2:19 KJV).
Here is the incident about which I am still pondering the spiritual significance at this waning time in the year and in the fading years of my earthly life.
Returning to Sapulpa from one of our twice-to-thrice-weekly medical trips to Tulsa, Mari pulled into the local drugstore parking lot (I don’t drive anymore) and got out to go in and leave or pick up another one of my endless prescriptions.
While she did so, I sat in the car on the passenger side since one of my health issues is dizziness and a lack of balance, and I did not want Mari to have to help me in and out of the car and the store.
Looked to my right I saw Mari in the middle of the drugstore parking lot conversing with a very thin young woman who was holding the hand of her son, barely more than a toddler. I could tell from their brief conversation that the young woman, whom I did not know, had asked Mari for some money and that Mari had said that she was sorry but she did not have any small bills to give her.
When Mari turned and entered the drugstore and the young woman turned in my direction, I could tell by the pained expression on her face that she was greatly distressed. So carefully I opened the car door, eased my way out of the vehicle, and cautiously wobbled toward the young woman who looked up at me with a blank stare.
As I approached her, I asked simply, “Do you have a problem?”
She quickly began to explain that her car had run out of gas in the parking lot of the adjacent farm and ranch supply store. She went on to say that she had to get her son back home to a neighboring small town about forty miles away on the other side of the bustling Tulsa metroplex. She concluded her remarks with the woeful lament, “I only have two dollars, which won’t buy anything, and no one will help me.”
At this last statement, her pent-up tears began to flow freely down her face as she looked down at the innocent, grinning face of her son, and then back up to my own with a pleading look of need and despair.
Reaching into my back pocket, I retrieved my wallet, took out a twenty-dollar bill, and handed it to her, saying, “Here, will this help?”
“Oh, yes,” she exclaimed gratefully. “Thank you so much!”
Then looking back down at her little boy she tugged at his hand and said, “Say ‘thank you’ to the nice gentleman.” (She might have said “nice old gentleman” for I am sure that is what she meant, given her age and mine.)
“T’ank kew,” the little type murmured as he pulled the candy lollipop he was sucking on out of his generously smeared mouth and cherry-stained lips and teeth.
After I had made my way carefully back to the car and sat down in the passenger seat, I looked to my right to see what happened to the young woman and her somewhat bedraggled minion. She was nowhere to be seen. Quickly my eyes ranged all over the drugstore parking lot and the one in front of the agri store next to it. But there was no mother and child anywhere in sight.
Suddenly it hit me. Of course, she would not be going back to her car in the parking lot on the right, but to the gas station to the left.
Sure enough, there she was, taking toddler steps and leading her dawdling darling across the parking lot of the storefront church toward the Quik Trip station and convenience store on the far street corner.
Then it also occurred to me that once she got there she would have to purchase a gas can and fill it up, and then make the arduous trek on foot back across those parking lots to her disabled car with a full two-gallon can of gasoline in one hand and her little tyke’s tiny, grimy hand in the other.
By this time Mari had returned and gotten back in the driver’s seat. So as quickly as possible I told her what had happened as she deftly guided the car out into the four-lane, late-afternoon holiday traffic and stated speeding away so that I quickly lost sight forever of the young woman and her grungy son.
Of course, I had already realized that unlike the biblical scribe (which is what I have been for the past thirty-plus years as a religious copyeditor) in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, I had not “passed by” the helpless young woman and her child “on the other side.” However, at the same time unlike that Good Samaritan I had not stayed with the lady and child and truly met her need and his.
I realized that I should have told her to wait until Mari returned. Then we should have driven her and her youthful charge to the Quik Trip, helped her buy a gas can and fill it up, and then driven her and her son back to her car and made sure that it started after being drained totally dry.
I also realized that although I had given her ten times the amount of money she had on her before my act of kindness, she still had to drive forty miles home through horrible holiday traffic and widespread highway construction with her little tyke . . . and then what? How much would she have left of my “great gift” to buy food for their evening meal? And what kind of Christmas was she and the boy going to have with her two dollars and the few “loaves and fishes” left over from my “largesse”?
So I was immediately stricken with mixed emotions. At least I didn’t go away from that experience like Ebenezer Scrooge, who lashed out at a couple of gentleman who dared to ask him to donate something for the care of the hungry and needy at Christmas, and then as Dickens tells us of the old miser, “went away with a raised estimation of himself.” At the same time, did I truly “show hospitality to strangers” and thus perhaps “entertain angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2 KJV)?
But perhaps the most important question at this holy time of year is: Did I act more like the traditional but nonscriptural “kindly innkeeper” in the Nativity Story and provide only the barest of comfort to a Mother and Child in their time of greatest need?
And will I learn from this incident and resolve that in this New Year I will “do for the least of these” as though I am doing it for the Holy Child of Bethlehem and His Beloved Mother?
Will you? Will all of us? Will any of us?
December 19, 2013