Scott Rochat: Facing Out in Joy
With every night and each new adventure, Missy giggled and smiled. Getting stuck in a rabbit hole. Marching to the North Pole by lunch time. And of course, laying a devious trap for the horrible Heffalumps.
There was no doubt about it. “Winnie the Pooh” was a hit.
When I added the stories to our bedtime reading, it had been a long time since I’d journeyed through the Hundred-Acre Wood. But it soon felt like yesterday. As we encountered the irascible Rabbit and pompous Owl, Piglet the Very Small Animal, and of course, Pooh Bear himself (of Very Little Brain), it was a reunion with old friends and long-missed neighbors with delightful stories to share.
It also seemed familiar. And it took me a moment to realize why.
Regular readers will remember that in my spare time, I’m an amateur actor. And this Friday, my latest show opens at the Rialto Theatre in Loveland — “You Can’t Take It With You,” an unforgettable comedy from the 1930s. If you haven’t seen it before, or the movie with Jimmy Stewart, it spends its time with the pleasantly off-balance Sycamore family, a clan that can charitably be called unique. Dad tests fireworks in the cellar, Grandpa raises snakes in the living room, and Mom alternates between unfinished plays and incomplete art works, while welcoming anyone into the home — sometimes for a years-long stay.
The comedy, of course, comes from the collision between the Sycamores’ carefree lifestyle and the expectations of a more rigorous world. And that is where I began hearing the humming of That Sort of Bear ... and a whisper or two of a joy that our own world sometimes forgets.
Namely, the simple act of being happy without apology.
Pooh is who he is. He seems foolish and silly at times. Heck, he is foolish and silly at times. (“Silly old Bear!”) But he hurts no one, he enjoys his songs and his honey and his friends, and in his relaxed happiness, he often sees things that others miss.
The Sycamores are who they are. The outside world thinks they’re mad, and it’s not always wrong. But they hurt no one, they enjoy their thousand and one odd pastimes and friends, and in their relaxed happiness, they remember some simple things that a more hurried humanity has forgotten.
And then there’s us.
We spend a lot of time trimming ourselves to fit the world’s expectations. Some of that’s a necessary consequence of living with other human beings — neither the Sycamores nor Pooh Bear disdain common courtesy, after all. But all too often, it’s a little more toxic.
All too often, it turns into hiding.
Maybe it’s the child who got bullied in school. A lot. Even if the victim makes it out the other side, the lesson has been learned: Don’t be too different, or you will regret it.
Maybe it’s the person with a chronic illness who’s run into “compassion fatigue,” the friends and family who don’t know how to handle a condition that isn’t fatal but won’t go away. Over time, the lesson is learned: Better to exhaust yourself acting “normal” on the surface than to encounter a world that constantly says “This again?”
Often, it’s something less dramatic, but no less discouraging. We choose one of a thousand masks to make the world more comfortable with us, even if it means we aren’t that comfortable with ourselves.
Or — we can let go.
We can acknowledge who we are. Face the world without hunched shoulders and a wary look. And openly love the silly things that hurt no one, and make us happy.
No, it’s not easy. It’s risky, in a lot of ways. The world can be harsh to the different and the honest.
But it’s also the only way to truly live, not just exist. And in that living, to see the world and yourself with fresh eyes.
That’s something even a Bear of Very Little Brain can appreciate.
(Psst! If you want to catch the show, “You Can’t Take It With You” runs the weekends of April 12-14 and 19-20 at the Rialto. See you there!)