Once upon a time not so very long ago, in a land even further north than the magical Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, a wizard was born... and promptly abandoned by his parents. The wizard was adopted into the loving home of an evangelical preacher who, five years later, moved the family light-years away to a place where Munchkins dwelt in relative peace and harmony. A place named for James, the Saint, just down the coast from the City of Angels. The wizard matured and as he did, he went by the name of - Art Linkletter. Those with a juvenile sense of humor may have sometimes warped that proud moniker into something less than illustrious (Fart Bedwetter?), but whether or not the wizard was ever actually bullied or teased by his peers, he developed a deep love and appreciation for childhood wit and sensibility. He grew up and became a famed radio host, and eventually went on to appear in living rooms throughout the land by way of a magic box called “the boob tube”. His program was called Art Linkletter’s House Party, and aired five times a week for nearly twenty years. Enjoyed far and wide and across the generations by lovers of all things innocent and good, one particularly popular segment of the program (and subsequent book) was called “Kids Say the Darndest Things”...
I remember howling with laughter as a child (right along with the studio audience) as Art Linkletter peered out of our humongous, 19” black and white television screen - deadpan, or as near to non-snickering as anyone could humanly manage in the face of such hilarious, half-pint interviewees - over 20,000 of them over the years! The show was totally unscripted, so you never knew what you were going to get. From the mouth of babes came some of the funniest moments in television history... and some of the most insightful.
I have my own hilarious wise-cracker sitting across from me at the dinner table every night. Sometimes, while she is ostensibly finishing up whatever offensive item remains on her plate, my husband will pull out his guitar, and serenade us. Often she’ll join in, adding her sweet, budding alto to his mellow baritone. Their latest duet of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” melted my heart - and then had me in stitches as, with eyes closed in an effort to appear wistful, she warbled out the following line:
“…where troubles smell like lemon drops…”
(Oh, how precious! I’ll probably never correct her.)
Later though, as so often happens, I thought about what she sang in a totally different way and found myself growing wistful for a simpler time. Blame it on being tired, a little too much introspection, or maybe even heartburn, I suddenly equated this incredibly sweet misperception of hers with a disconcerting symptom of our current culture.
Somewhere along the line between the House Party heyday and today, we've hardened. We've lost our love of purity and truth - of innocence - preferring instead to tell ourselves comfortable lies. We no longer know what is good for us, no longer recognize trouble for what it is. No longer live in a time where it “melts like lemon drops” – inevitably, often despite unnecessary worry, with sweetness and tang inexorably blended until nothing but memory remains.
Nowadays, instead of melting away, trouble lingers at our invitation, its scent clinging to the very fabric of our lives. It has been redefined, turned on its ear. Like children who misunderstand that which is meant to make them stronger as they pass through it, we now perceive trouble as something to be savored, an indulgent treat. What used to be a burden to bear for whatever time it took to divest ourselves of it has become our favorite candy, and darn it! - we want more! We intentionally create more, without stopping to consider the long term effects.
Why? Because we no longer value discipline and self-control. Conflict and vice are relished in our day-to-day lives instead, even more so in our entertainment... and entertainment passes for news. Shaming our neighbors, spewing opinions and flinging insults, we vie to impress friends and followers undeterred by compassion or reason. Not recognizing and regretting our personal failings, we seek –no, we demand! – approval. Conflict was once universally acknowledged as detrimental to our well-being, and that of society. It was something to overcome. But now our personal media feeds filter down to us supporting opinion and little else, distracting us with cat memes and crude humor until the mind-numbing gulf is unbridgeable, and our narcissistic selves can no longer distinguish right from wrong, beauty from the repulsive, truth from lies. We see it on our screens, so it must be so.
Compassion is dead. Innocence is lost, and with it - our consciences.
But... innocence is optimism, it is hope...
We’ve opted to throw hope away, carelessly discarding what we most need for healing. Instead, hopeless, we cling to this new, self-righteous reality somehow thinking more of it will make things better. More personal freedom (as long as it is PC), more ranting, more claiming offence at every little thing – more, More, MORE! More everything except humility, and listening to that still, small voice that convicts us.
We’ve convinced ourselves that trouble only smells like lemon drops, and isn’t that just wonderful? Aren’t we all just so happy here in our little, intolerant bubbles?
Just listen to me rant... I'm sorry.
Do I want to be a child again? No, but I would like a return to child-like innocence. As an adult, that means making a conscious effort, recognizing that I am part of the problem, and working to overcome my own prejudices. Unlike innocent children, I know more about the world; that doesn’t always mean I know better. Listening to viewpoints other than my own might just help me understand where someone else is coming from. It may not change how I view the world, but it might help me appreciate the fact that my viewpoint is not the only valid one.
We all come from a place of brokenness. It will take all of us to fix it.
Throughout his 97 years of life the wizard knew joy, and he knew trials. He married the girl of his dreams and raised a family. The year I reached the age of reason, his 20 year old daughter fell to her death from a sixth story window during a flashback from LSD, motivating him to speak out against drug use. The year I graduated high school, one of his sons died in a car accident; years later he buried another who died from lymphoma. The wizard persevered. He spent his life spreading joy throughout the land, becoming a philanthropist, founding a dance school, and earning his own star on Hollywood and Vine. He was fined once for claiming false citizenship, but paid his dues, and became one. He was accused (and cleared) of an unsavory scheme, then served on the Presidential Council on Service and Civic Participation. He was quoted as saying - "I believe none of us should ever stop growing, learning, changing, and being curious about what's going to happen next. None of us is perfect, so we should be eager to learn more and try to be more effective persons in every part of our lives."
He held several honorific degrees, and throughout his life promoted laughter as the best medicine. He invested in the hula-hoop, supported his friend Walt as Disneyland got up and running, and his image graces the $100,000 dollar bills in the board game called Life. In later years he suffered a stroke, and two years after that, just months shy of his 75th wedding anniversary, he died.
The wizard, Art Linkletter knew what troubles were, and that they melt like – not smell like – lemon drops. And he would have been amused at those who thought otherwise.