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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Compassion or Charlie Brown, You’re a Good Man

How I loved them all.
We were ever hopeful.

In 1950 a shy guy from Minnesota by the name of Charles M. Schultz published a cartoon strip and rocked the daily cartoon world to its very core. For the first time a comic strip examined the interior lives of children who weren’t always happy in a world in which problems were not solved. This was no mischievous “Katzenjammer Kids” or “Little Orphan Annie” with her annoying endless pluck. “Peanuts” embodied by round-headed Charlie Brown, changed how we looked at children, ever after.

Lucy never stopped tormenting Charlie through his football.  In spite and in good measure perhaps, her pursuit of the temperamental musician Schroeder was never fulfilled. Fearful yet moral Linus couldn’t give up his security blanket. Snoopy used his Ace Pilot fantasy to fulfill his species-limited aspirations and Charlie Brown could never connect with his little red-haired girl. How fitting that Lucy set up court as the psychiatrist who didn’t help because she, pretending to be an adult, never listened. Rather than poke fun or belittle the hurts, fears and pains of childhood, Mr. Schultz honored them and in doing so, captured my heart and hearts of millions of baby boomers everywhere.  

The adults who populated this world in the charming television adaptations later produced by Mr. Schultz, were heard only as gibberish or honks to which the children responded to as sources of humiliation, rejection or exasperation.  They never helped.  

Those crazy Katzenjammers! 
There was a time in my life when I was not blessed with good health and as a part of my recovery process it was necessary for me to take a test, which measured my metabolism and was somewhat barbaric.  Over the course of about 9 months I went to the doctor’s office once every month in the morning and lay down on an examination table. The lights were then turned down low and I had to remain still for about an hour.  Once that time had passed, a large machine was wheeled into the room and I had to insert a breathing tube filled with fresh oxygen that had a rubber mouthpiece, which I wore for another 20 minutes or so and measured my metabolic rate.  I was 12 years old.  Today that test is long gone. There are much more efficient ways to determine if your thyroid is functioning properly.

It wasn’t invasive so much as disconcerting and uncomfortable and when the test was over I usually went to IHOP with my father, for he was assigned this task, for their Pancakes with boysenberry syrup.  I always felt rather fragile after the test and ravenously hungry.  On one of these occasions, instead of the IHOP in Millburn, my father took me to a coffee shop in South Orange Village.  I remember that he needed to pick something up from one of his business associates nearby. 

Death Eater Pose

We were seated in a booth by the window awaiting our food when an elderly gentleman entered. In some ways this character looked like a Death Eater from Harry Potter. His dark coat was tattered and hung off of his gaunt frame.  He wore a knit cap and he seemed to carry about his person a dark and undefined dusky aura. His face was bearded and surrounded by a wild white halo that looked evenly trimmed as with a scissor, but was much too long.  When he sat down at the counter of the coffee shop I was taken aback.  I had never seen an elderly person is such disarray or reflecting such a forlorn and poverty stricken position in life.  He took out a baby food jar from a pocket on the inside of his coat, twisted off the lid, and starting counting out coins, mostly quarters, on the counter.  The waitress came over and he began to order with gusto. He was directly in my line of vision and I gasped and started to cry.   My father noticed my tears and turned around to see what I was looking at.

He looked back at me and started to laugh. “Oh, I bet he’s getting some pancakes today too with all that money.  Looks like he’s loaded.”  And he continued to laugh, as though my compassion, my sorrow, was a silly thing. 

The waitress delivered our food and I was unable to eat. It just angered my father, the fact that I was wasting good food, wasting his money.   He told me to not be so damn sensitive. I did not yet know the term – “There but for the grace of God, go I”  --but I clearly felt it in that most fragile moment. I was just frightened by what I saw and did not know how to articulate those feelings but Charles M. Schultz did.  He understood how vulnerable and alone children felt when the adults around them didn’t know how to listen or help or chase away their fears. 

I am ever thankful for them

As we pass through this time of Thanksgiving, I cannot think of a better time to consider our own reality, how we could have walked the same path as those which we are so quick to judge and be thankful for all that we have been given, most especially Charlie Brown and friends.

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