By Blaney Pridgen
All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
From the poet, Wendell Berry:
“The past is our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it.”
Last week my wife Betsy and I saw the new movie It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Tom Hanks plays Mr. Rogers. If you, your children, or grandchildren know Mr. Rogers, this story brings back good memories. It is especially so for my sister, a daughter and me since the actor’s portrayal looks and moves very much like my deceased father, John, a past president of Thornwell Home for Children in Clinton and longtime Presbyterian minister in North Augusta, Anderson, and other places.
Good memories are always mixed with the bad and everything in between. Memories come back with no invitation, especially around Christmas. For better or worse they crash our parties and family gatherings. Sometimes we welcome them. Sometimes not. I remember my father. He could be an aloof and too stern of a disciplinarian during my childhood and early adulthood. As years passed he mellowed and I understood him better. Perhaps he understood me better too. The father became a dad and a kind of “Mr. Rogers” and the best adult friend I have ever had.
My sister’s only child of thirty-four years died last month. Way too young and in our grief almost feels way too loved. My father’s treasured grandson is perhaps with him now. So are a daughter and stepson of mine. The character we saw in the movie, looking like our father, greeted them to a new “beautiful day in the neighborhood.” At Christmas, all kinds of memories drop by with tear-stained presents under the tree of life. So we open up these gifts of memory very carefully. They are fragile and precious. They are good and bad.
This Christmas, we might consider escaping what can feel very bad in our memories by adding something better to them. We might set ourselves to intentionally making a good memory for someone. That making will make a good memory for ourselves as well. Making good memories now is a useful gift that never wears out. Who needs our gift? Figure that out and then give it. Mr. Rogers will heartily approve.
From my memories, Santa Claus brought me a flying model airplane with a tiny loud gas engine several Christmases in a row. It was a dangerous toy flown in a circle on a long handheld tether. Someone had to risk a bloody finger starting this thing by spinning the propeller. Someone else held the tether. The first someone was I. The second someone was my dad. I never once flew the thing. Dad did. And I never once asked Santa for this toy. I got it anyway. All three crashed before three New Year, never to fly again. The third crash dived into Dad. His Army Air Corps coat was cut up, but the pilot survived. Santa ended his three-year run of Christmas air shows. A great memory.
A Jewish proverb for the new year: “We open the book of memory, and it speaks for itself, for every man has signed it by his life.” Women too. In this new year, the advent of a new decade, sign your life away with as many good memories as you are able to make. One of those good memories may be for someone living their last year. That someone might be you. Try to make someone’s neighborhood beautiful. And go see that movie.