There I was, writing about Kindergarten fears, when news of the shooting near the Empire State Building in NYC on Friday stopped me cold.
I started to write about that.
Then I learned that Jerry Nelson, longtime Puppeteer for the Muppets and Sesame Street, had died.
I started to write about that.
Then yesterday, the news that Neil Armstrong had also died.
I stopped trying to write and let it all sink in. I tried to focus on the good.
Two great men. Two kinds of heroes. Both figures that entered my world when I was just a toddler and have been around my whole life. Gone.
Jerry Nelson was immensely talented. He brought joy and learning to countless children and grown ups over his long and marvelous career.
I thought about watching Sesame Street as a child in 1969 when it first aired.
I found myself furiously sketching this:
Then I reached for a book, Sesame Street Unpaved, scripts, stories, secrets and songs by David Borgenicht
I thought of my friends who work at Sesame Street and how sad they must be.
I thought about how incredibly fortunate I was to work there (on and off) in a variety of jobs for over 20 years. I first started working there in the early 90’s, just a few weeks before the late, great Jim Henson died. At that time, I was an intern, answering viewer mail. I’d never seen so many condolences letters. So many lives were touched and changed by his work. And we continue to enjoy his greatness even though he’s long gone from the planet. I think Jerry Nelson will also be remembered for a very long time, especially through his remarkable body of work as a masterful puppeteer, most notably as the creator and original performer of The Count, among many other characters.
How do you quantify or measure that?
I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein:
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Jerry Nelson’s work and legacy lives on in the many characters he created; immortalized on film and video. It’s all there for us to enjoy for years to come. What a great gift we’ve been left with.
I thought about relationships and work colleagues. I met my husband at a party on the set of Sesame Street in 1995. Tomorrow, we’re celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary. I couldn’t be more grateful for that life changing moment when my friend, a writer for the show, introduced us. I love and admire her for many reasons. That moment, which has led us to 17 years together, is certainly one of the biggest reasons. That isn’t something I can quantify. It’s immeasureable. At the same time, it counts as a HUGE moment that altered my life for the better and in ways which I could not have imagined for myself.
Makes me think of when Andy plays the Elton John song so beautifully on piano, “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” (Lyrics, Bernie Taupin):
“And I thank the Lord for the people I have found.”
Oh, yes, minus the Lord, for me, but yes, deeply thankful for the people I have found. And what a beautiful song that is.
I thought about how when loved ones die and leave behind a family, friends, colleagues, those people will never celebrate another living anniversary or milestone or ordinary day together ever again. Life can be gone in an instant. I’m grateful daily for the people in my life. Gratitude helps with my sadness. It grounds me in what is here now and it lives along with the sadness. It isn’t one instead of the other. It is both. Sadness and gratitude holding hands.
I thought about respect, talent, and a love of children. And a belief that all children have a right to a decent, good education that is free from war, violence, and sorrow. They have a right that we do our best to provide that. They deserve that we don’t stop working towards that.
Here, two great men, one from the arts, one from science–both made remarkable contributions to our country and the world. I think about science and the arts and that they’re equally important and they’re both connected by imagination, exploration, and discovery, by hard work and requiring an attitude of humility, and open minds that creates a pursuit of life long learning, which in turn creates progress. I want Max to have role models and heroes in every area of life. And I want him (and all the other children in this country and beyond) to grow up in a place where both science and the arts are recognized as being of value.
And where they intersect–in places like Sesame Street, counting, numbers, and math delivered in a fun, playful, accessible way. Art, math, and music together! Do you remember that Slimey the Worm also went into space? Sesame Street pretty much covers it all. Then there is flight, courage, space exploration, walking on the moon, and from that we have heard and seen some of the most poetic words and images. There was an opening up of imagination and expanding limits beyond what was possible that still inspires today:
“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
–Neil Armstrong, First man to walk on the moon
I get goosebumps every time I see that footage. I was three when I saw it happen live for the first time. It never gets old.
I thought about a disgruntled worker, killing another. Someone lost their job a year ago, and on Friday, killed a man, and created panic and fear in the heart of NYC. The news says what it says. The same story spins around again.
I thought about guns and why our country is hell-bent on self-destruction, so heartbroken, fearful, and angry. Quick to pull the trigger. So desperately sad. I watch neighborhood children with their toy guns and their water guns, and I wonder why their parents can’t (or won’t) find them something else to do with their natural, human aggression? Why the guns?
Then I thought about people like Jerry Nelson who brought light and laughter into the world. Our world needs people in it who bring fun, light, color, movement, creativity, and music. Then I think about those who suggest the arts, physical education, foreign language, libraries, and classroom aides are lines that should (and are) cut from the budgets. They are deemed unnecessary. Really? Imagine a world without art, music, film, tv, theater, or books.
We need to give children a fighting chance to grow up by making our country safer and healthier. We need people who inspire learning and play. We need science and math and ALL of it. We need people to end hunger. We need people to fight poverty. We need people to teach in ways that support and nuture children, not just test them into oblivion. We need business, too, of course, but not instead of people and their basic welfare and health. There’s a way to have both. Not all businesses are evil, far from it. But priorities must shift. Maybe remembering these two men will remind us all what people can become and accomplish if they’re nurtured, educated, and fed both literally and figuratively.
I see people are incredibly unkind to one another. The anger is spraying bullets through easily purchased guns. I came across this:
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
I can’t say I’ve never been unkind, I know I’ve been unkind, and I know I’ll likely be unkind again, because I’m human, and sometimes people are unkind. But what if we made this our goal? Something that we work towards. At least something we attempt to do with our children. Each other. Our city. Our town. Our country. Our planet. The only thing I can come up with for today: to the news of the violence, to the news of death, to the news of endings–is to send out words, colors, love, and wishes for peace.
I choose a rainbow of colors, fur, monsters that don’t hurt, but teach us how to be human.
I choose marveling at the moon and the men who walked on it.
Thank you, Jerry Nelson for the years of amazing characters, voices, and songs. I hope you rest in peace. You have made a difference in so many lives, including mine.
I love this quote from him I found in Sesame Street Unpaved:
“Don’t give up, no matter how far away you are from the mark.”
For my friends who knew Jerry Nelson personally, and who worked with him, some over a lifetime, you have my deepest sympathy and I’m sorry for your loss.
For Neil Armstrong, American Hero, I’ll see you in the moon, there to remind me what is possible when dedicated people work together for the greater good.
A long time ago, a little girl saw images on TV and they lit a spark that continues to inspire today. Thank you.
all words and images copyright 2012 Elana Halberstadt except where noted otherwise.