Gustafson: Good Grief
“There are three things I’ve learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin,” the Peanuts comic character Linus declares.
That line has been delivered every October, including election years, for decades. Around Halloween in my house, we have an annual tradition of watching Linus withstand ridicule for his beliefs. We’ve come to admire his unwavering convictions in the face of peer pressure. Each time I watch Charles Shultz’ simple messages carried over into animation it reinforces how much we can learn from this innocent candor.
Year after year, I can’t resist the urge to root for Linus, hoping that the Great Pumpkin actually will arrive this time; the same type of tragic optimism that keeps me hopeful during this election season.
When challenged by Charlie Brown: “When are you going to stop believing in something that isn’t real?” Linus quips, “When you stop believing in the fella with the red suit and white beard who goes ‘ho ho ho!’” Charlie Brown then sighs, “We are obviously separated by denominational differences.” It makes me realize how undignified our political debates sound these days. How often do we have similar-sounding conversations about matters which we find ourselves on opposing sides.
The letdowns and profound messages of the Peanuts gang also remind us that not every day has a happy ending. Because we see it through the eyes of children, the cartoon’s perspective encourages us to acknowledge the absurdity of so many aspects of our own cultural norms.
Originating in 1950, Schulz drew a new Peanuts strip every day for almost 50 years. The comic relief served to distract adults from the agony of the day’s headlines. But the slow-paced, contemplative style of the made-for-TV holiday specials target younger audiences. Still the understated humor seems to have a timeless appeal even as it becomes increasingly difficult to slow our own lives down to that tempo. While kids enjoy Charlie Brown’s mistake-ridden adventures, only as adults can we really appreciate and understand them.
Looking back, I not only see relatable, slice-of-life stories about childhood, but I also notice the easy-to-absorb themes of children. In spite of life’s various knock downs, they keep trying to kick that football notwithstanding missing every time.
The pragmatic Charlie Brown reaches with anticipation into his trick-or-treat bag over and over. “I got a rock,“ he sighs. But it doesn’t seem to dampen his efforts as he carries on, one letdown after the next.
Most of us can relate to the unrequited, anticlimactic, disappointing moments that make us who we are. In school, Charlie Brown is outdone by smarter kids, on the sports field he is consistently deceived and beaten and, even when his dreams are modest, he still can’t fly a kite without getting it stuck in a tree. Yet he remains resilient, determined and kind. He teaches us that loyalty, perseverance and unrelenting optimism are more important than quick successes and easy wins.
These characters teach us to accept that failure is a part of life. We learn that we may not excel at everything, or anything. It teaches us not to give up hope and to try to kick that football again and again with unyielding faith in humanity. Today could be your day. Election Day could be our moment.
With all of his philosophical musings, Linus teaches even our youngest minds that it is OK to ponder the big stuff, even when it seemingly doesn’t affect them.
We watch how even Sally, the eternal optimist who sees the storm’s rainbow before the rain breaks, can have a bad day too.
Snoopy’s antics remind us to continue to hold tight to our own sense of make-believe. He also teaches us that being yourself doesn’t always mean wearing only one hat, holding steadfast to one singular identity or tying ourselves down to one perspective.
Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the gang have fun just enjoying the seasons and each other’s company, finding joy in the simplest of things — a valuable life lesson.
“Don’t take it too hard,” Charlie reminds Linus, “I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff in my life too.”
The stress of knowing that this November we are facing one of the most consequential elections in generations keeps me slapping my forehead and sighing way more explicit concerns than “Good Grief.” How would Schultz interpret today’s headlines? Perhaps by reminding us to carry on with unwavering conviction, make our own happiness and dance like no one’s watching. Can’t you hear the music?
That’ll be $.05 cents, please.
Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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