Friday, November 29, 2019

Mentionable, Manageable, Musical

“If it’s human, it’s mentionable. If it’s mentionable, then it’s manageable.” 

One of the choice nuggets from the new “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” the Tom Hanks version of Mr. Rogers trying to name the elephant in the room to bring its silent rampage under control. As also mentioned in the movie, Mr. Rogers may come across to many as a goody-goody, but he really did deal with dark and difficult themes with precisely the idea that saying them out loud to children—and adults— got them off the merry-go-round of under-the-rug-repression or off-to-the-side-distracting-entertainment. And then proceeded to give some advice about expressing one’s sadness, anger, frustration in ways that don’t hurt others or oneself. 

He mentions pounding clay and banging on the low keys of the piano, but I would add shaping and sculpting clay and playing Bach or the Blues on the piano. Repression certainly doesn’t work but neither does unbridled “Primal Scream” (remember that?) expression. But art or meditation that takes the raw energy and cooks it into something nourishing and tasty is a third option that I would recommend. Whether it’s music or art or poetry or a walk in the woods or following the breath, it is the effort to face and name the darkness and to work with it in some way or another that begins to help us manage it. The very act of making an effort makes us larger and makes it smaller, so that it’s still with us, but its impact is diminished. 

The habit of the “unmentionable” has been with us at least since the Medieval Parzival story, when the naïve young knight stumbles upon the Grail Castle in the midst of the Wasteland and meets the grail King who is carried out on a litter with a wound that bleeds day and night and neither kills him nor is healed. Trained to be polite, Parzival says nothing about the wound and the next morning, the castle has disappeared and Parzival is doomed to 30 more years of wandering before he finds it again. This time he says to the king, “What ails you?” and the very act of asking the question is the beginning of the healing. 

Whether it be psychological, cultural, political or spiritual healing, Mr. Rogers had it right. Start by mentioning it and then begin to manage it. And may I suggest again the third M— make into a music that soothes, comforts, expresses, deepens and enlarges all who play it and all who deeply listen. 

And that’s what will make it a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

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