The Holy Ground of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

“I saw people throwing pies in each others’ faces, and I thought: ‘This could be a wonderful tool. Why is it being used this way?’” So says a lanky, exceedingly soft-spoken Presbyterian minister with the classic middle America name of Fred Rogers, a man who turned children’s television in the latter part of the 20th century into a kind of ode to basic human decency rather than the casually cruel and empty-headed drivel it often was and still too often remains.

By the end of his 31-year tenure ministering to children’s souls via a daily half-hour public television show, Rogers had earned such a revered place in American culture that a documentary about his life’s work, entitled, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is currently packing theaters around the country with adults who, if the viewing I took in yesterday and again this morning is any indication, mostly sob their way through the film’s 9...

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Sixth Annual “Songs of Summer”

Three songs, summer-themed, on or very near the solstice. A respite, a celebration, a salute to whatever shreds of sanity, shoots of hope and shards of joy  we may be able to cultivate in a world that often seems hellbent, for rather baffling reasons, on denying them all.

Welcome to the Sixth Annual Songs of Summer! If you’re new to this space and wondering why so-and-such song isn’t in the lineup, it may well have already had its moment in the sun, sun, sun, either here or here or here or here or here. (Those will take you to years one through five if you feel in the mood for an orgy of summer sounds, minus the cicadas.)

So, to cite a beloved phrase from another summer pastime of some renown: “Batter up!”

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The big choice in “Summer Rain” was whether to present Johnny Rivers in his so-called prime in 1973, or to put a 2013 version in front of you. In the latter,  Johnny (“Secret Agent Man,” “Poor S...

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Light and Dark in the Arts: What’s Your Pleasure?

A small group of us was discussing possible movie choices for the upcoming weekend a few nights ago when one person floated the possibility of “Chesil Beach,” the adaptation of a dark Ian McEwan novel about a rapidly failing, misbegotten marriage, almost shocking in its misery. Someone else, a psychotherapist who spends his days listening to those and many other such woeful tales, brightly asked, “Why would you want to subject yourself to that?”

Now, the therapist can most certainly be excused for abstaining from the prospect of extending the rigors of his day job into his leisure hours. (And paying to do so, no less.) But his question reflected a kind of fundamental “There are two kinds of people in the world…” issue that has always been of great interest to producers of art and entertainment.

Dark or light? Sweet or sour?  Frothy or strained?

Serious and sober or witty and weightless?

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Absorbing Trump’s Blows

I’ve noticed a certain weariness setting in among friends, associates, myself. Gotta get on with life, maintain our joy, equanimity, hope. Can’t live in a state of permanent apoplexy and indignation. Please, can’t we enjoy just an hour’s, an evening’s, a day’s activity and conversation without alluding to HIM and all the things that he touches and disparages and tries to ruin?

 

So we quietly avoid the whole subject, or hold our hands in front of our face in mock horror when someone mentions his name, and we proclaim only half-jokingly, “Nooooo, I can’t take any more, please!”

 

And we understand, of course we do, often feeling the same sense of resignation and suffocation ourselves, denied any nearby window that might let in some precious air and light.

 

So we want out, desperately, no longer willing to weigh down our bruised hearts with thoughts of the awfulness that abides.

 

W...

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A Visit to Duke Gardens

Like a lot of aphorisms, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” has such perfect pitch and rhythm that we rarely question whether it is altogether true. It is no doubt partially true, given that cultural constructs of the beautiful vary as dramatically as they do in this world. Not to mention the individual sensibilities that can see two people focus on the exact same thing and leave one swooning and the other cringing and backing away.

But whatever one’s unique tastes, some things seem to strike a universal chord of sensory appreciation, causing us to dreamily exclaim, “Oh, that’s beautiful!

Sunrises and sunsets, swans afloat and geese in flight, a perfect plump strawberry.

Ecclesiastes 3, and when it was set to music.

All these seem to elicit universal agreement that they are good and beautiful things.

And, of course, gardens.

“God Almighty first planted a Garden...

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