“Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It's a good life, enjoy it.”
― Jim Henson
― Jim Henson
I watched “The Muppets” with my family the other night. It was a profound, almost spiritual experience. The Muppets have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and, no matter what anybody says, they are not “just puppets.” They are the heart and soul of Jim Henson, described by a colleague as a man “who walked this earth like no one else.” I can believe that. Beneath the whimsy, the goofy humor, the sheer entertainment, there are some pretty important life lessons inherent in those lumps of foam and fabric. Who knew that some scraps of an old coat and a bisected ping pong ball would live forever as an icon of wit and wisdom?
When Kermit sang the poignant “Bein’ Green”, he was singing about what it was like to be Jim Henson, a shy man who thought he was ugly and weird. The voices Henson gave to Rowlf and Kermit were his own voice, but he hid behind his puppets for most of his life. He was gentle and kind. He led with love, and he never wanted to trouble or burden anyone. Had he gotten to the hospital six hours earlier, his life would have been saved. This is the horribly ironic thing-his very desire to not be a “bother” cost him his life, and was a devastating loss to all who knew him-and millions who didn’t.
Those of you who know me know of my fondness for puppets, but this was not always so. As a small child I was terrified of them, along with clowns, talking dolls, mimes, and anything in a weird costume, like Mr.Peanut. I still think all of those other things are a bit creepy, but thanks to Kermit, Oscar, Grover, and the rest of the Sesame Street Muppets, I lost my fear of puppets by the time I was four. I watched “Sesame Street” because of the Muppets. Even now, I am skeptical about its value in terms of a child’s future academic success-I could already read when I started watching anyway-but its merit lies in the lessons that it teaches about being yourself, getting along with others, the importance of family and community, and respect for those who are different from you.
Obviously, “Sesame Street” was not my only venue for learning these things. I had a great family, I went to Sunday school and church, and for much of my childhood I lived in a close-knit neighborhood where everyone knew everyone else and felt free to correct one another’s kids. I’m not even sure such communities exist today. I ran and played with a pack of friends of all ages and from experience came to understand what behaviors were acceptable and which ones were not. But what the Muppets did was reinforce the values I was already being taught. Additionally, they made me laugh and feel good. This was Jim Henson’s goal. He wanted to make people laugh and he wanted them to see that life really is good.
I cried when I heard of Jim Henson’s death and when I watched his funeral. He was one of those rare people , like Walt Disney and C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who gave the world an intangible Something. It has to do with being able to show Truth via imagination, things so deep that we often spend days pondering them. Amidst the wonderful absurdity of a pig falling in love with a frog, a bear telling bad jokes, and a piano-playing mutt, there is a message of hope and peace and joy. We all yearn for the Rainbow Connection, and sometimes, just sometimes, we get glimpses of it on this side of Heaven. It may be seen in different things by different people. For me, the glimpses come through literature and poetry, through music and movies, through God’s creation…and through the Muppets. I laughed heartily and wept unashamedly as we watched “The Muppets”, and when they sang “The Rainbow Connection” near the end, we were all singing too. That’s what Jim Henson desired-for EVERYONE to join in the song and feel loved and accepted in a way that he himself was never quite able to feel.
I miss you, Jim Henson. You made the world a better, kinder, gentler place. May the Muppets live on forever.
“Someday we’ll find it, the Rainbow Connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me.”