The Rainbow Connection

     My mate and I watched “The Muppet Movie” the other day. I’d heard a story on NPR about the song “The Rainbow Connection” being among twenty-five recordings to be permanently enshrined in the Library of Congress. And I dimly recalled the movie from years ago. So we allowed ourselves to be thoroughly entranced for the next ninety-five minutes.

     “I’m going to cry,” I warned her. She knew. I usually cry at good movies, especially if good music accompanies them. You may call me a sentimental old fool. But hey, I’m not all that old.

     Two minutes in, I was sappily sloppily sobbing.

     As the film continued, and the familiar sock puppets appeared, I started to think about the different characters, which run the gamut of personality types⎯a veritable Myers-Briggs melange. I wondered: could the whole cast be thought of as different aspects of the same person? The many traits and aspects of our psychological makeup, all present and accounted for in the same person? And I noticed how much all these aspects of being have taken residence inside each of us. Inside me.

     [Author’s embarrassing note: I didn’t watch the Muppets very much during their long run on TV. I now realize this has permanently stunted my cultural sensibilities. So I googled my way to more info about these beloved socks. I’m drawing most of my assumptions about their characters from how they appeared in the movie.]

     Miss Piggy: “HI-YA! There’s Only Room For One Miss Piggy, And That’s Moi!”

     A stunning beauty⎯at least in her own eyes. But she can’t see very far beyond them. She wins the beauty pageant, so she’s beloved by some. But to everyone else in her life, she’s vain, uncaring, and selfish⎯the dictionary definition of a narcissist. A call from her Hollywood agent is enough to send her careering off into the sunset⎯Boulevard, that is⎯without giving the poor heartbroken amphibian she’s been so assiduously courting all this time so much as a second thought.

     But somehow she shows that beyond all this, she has a heart of gold. Why? I’m not sure, maybe it’s her irrepressible energy. She may steamroll over those she loves. But she does love them in her own odd and dysfunctional way.

     In myself, I see a lot of Miss Piggy. The part that thinks it wants to be famous. I may never quite get quit of that evil temptation, but awareness at least lets me know when I’m deep in its clutches. Then I can back off, recalling that the grand island of fame is the loneliest place on earth.

     Animal: He’s perhaps the least likable character of all…at first. Tied down with chains in the opening scenes, he rants and rages out of control. But I quickly grew to appreciate his wild energy. The most lively member of the gang, he’s never truly scary. And he’s the one who saves the day when all of the Muppets are in real trouble: he scares the bad guys away with an unforgettable surprise appearance!

     It’s a reminder for us to let our inner monster loose every once in a while. When it is directed in a positive way it can fuel a fiery burst of creative energy and break through the stifling suppression of fear and inertia. It’s good to get wild sometimes!

     Statler And Waldorf: “I’m Statler.” “I’m Waldorf. We’re here to heckle The Muppet Movie.”

     There’s nothing their cynicism doesn’t touch, or that they can’t ridicule and belittle. Nothing penetrates their thick curmudgeonly armor.

     But they’re hilarious! There’s joy in having so much cynical truth erupt and splatter itself onto everything and everyone within reach. You wouldn’t want them at any serious gathering. But that’s okay. They wouldn’t want to be there anyway.

     Ridicule can sometimes be used to deflate the puffy balloons that people can inflate around themselves to keep others from seeing how lost and inadequate they feel inside. Done with humor rather than meanness, it can bring those scared souls out into the open so they can interact on an authentic level with those they most care about.

   Rowlf the dog: “When You’ve Been Tickling The Ivories As Long As I Have, You’ve Seen A Broken Heart For Every Drop Of Rain, A Shattered Dream For Every Falling Star.”

     A consummate pianist, he’s like the piano-bar guy you want to sit in front of and cry your eyes out. He’s just there, no pretense, no artifice, just a dude to grab a beer with and hang out for a while. Like Guinan (played by Whoopi Goldberg) in the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” series, or Mycroft Homes, Sherlock’s even smarter brother, Rowlf acts as a confessor and therapist to Kermit when the poor amphibian is in the throes of romantic confusion.

     I wish there were more of him in the world. Heck, I wish I was more like him! Maybe we all can grow in that direction, as time goes on and we gain wisdom through life experience. The first sign of maturity in a child is when they are old enough to realize they can, and should, return to the world the gifts that have carried them into adulthood.

   Gonzo the Great: Boy, I identified with him a lot⎯to my chagrin. He’s the loud dresser, the show-off, the zany guy flaunting a zoot suit and always crowing for attention. And doing crazy, zany stunts to get it.

But inside, he feels lonely. Despite all his bravado, he’s really shy. The flashy exterior is all a cover for his inner insecurity but it never works. People aren’t fooled, though they may temporarily be blinded by his song and dance. Only when he shows his authentic self can he be seen by others for who he is.

     I’m sure all of us can plead guilty to this sometimes. Who doesn’t love the limelight? The praise of others is a potent drug, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be. But when it becomes the only way to judge our own worth, that’s when it’s time to draw the line, leave the stage, and take off the makeup.

   Kermit The Frog: “I have a dream, too. But it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy. It’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with.”

     For me, Kermit is not so much a character in the panoply of muppets as an amalgam of all the other characters, one which includes all the disparate attributes of the whole gang. I think of Winnie-the-Pooh in the forest in much the same way; maybe you can think of other mythic worlds that have a similar central figure.

     Kermit loves himself, his world, and everybody in it in a way that is simple and direct. He’s partly Animal: he can be a little wild when he needs to be, but has a sense of when he’s gone far enough.

     He’s Gonzo, a consummate performer who loves sharing his gifts with an audience in an intimate and heartfelt way. Though I don’t think he has the same self-destructive daredevil attitude!

     He’s Miss Piggy, putting his heart out there for the world to accept or reject, though he’s certainly not as vain or blind to others as that porcine diva.

     And he’s got a bit of Rowlf in him, more than willing to listen to his friends and help them through their own struggles.

     What about Statler? Waldorf? Hmm…I’ll leave it up to you to figure that out. Kermit doesn’t seem to have a cynical bone in his amphibious body. But maybe I’m just missing the cues, or worse yet, projecting my own tendencies to snark upon the poor guy, He’s only a simple green hand puppet, after all.

     Maybe we’re all collections of people, dragging multitudes of characters around inside us everywhere we go. Different ones erupt at different times, depending on who most needs attention. Sometimes all at the same time. What are some of yours? Which ones do you most identify with?

     I see a little bit of all of them inside me from time to time. Sometimes I discover new characters that must have been hiding all these years, ones I don’t recall ever meeting. New loveable and not-so-lovable people pop up all the time if one is paying attention!

     And I realize that the part I present at any one moment seems to bring out the same in others. When I’m insufferably monstrous (oh, yes, I’m not immune!) then I can expect the same in return. When I’m stingy, I suddenly find people close themselves off to me.

     And a corollary: I’ve discovered that when I approach the world with my authentic self in a spirit of simple joy and wonder, like Kermit, well, they respond in kind. My mood draws out the same in others. When we decide to unselfishly project love and acceptance, well, it’s the best feeling in the world to put that out there, to fling a small but potent seed on fertile ground, and watch it grow into something that sends back its flowers to us.

     What is it about this Kermit character, this simple soul, whose antics and adventures, trials and heartbreaks, mistakes and successes we watch half-mad with jealousy to live just as simple and uncomplicated a life as he? There’s a painful awareness that we are not nearly as practiced at being unpracticed.

     But he reminds us that we, too, can find that same joy. Amid the pain, confusion, sadness, and messy goop of life, happiness is available to us and always was. It has been patiently waiting for us to wake up. It is ours if we but lay back upon its soft and welcoming pillow and let it cradle us as it has for so long yearned to do.

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