We shouldn’t have lost Bob McGrath this close to Christmas.
I know. There’s never a good time. But you know what I mean. Big Bird would understand.
If you or your kids grew up watching “Sesame Street,” you know Bob, who passed recently at the age of 90. Part of the adult cast, he was the music teacher with a gentle voice and a kindly manner. Sometimes he’d be introducing the latest “People in Your Neighborhood.” Sometimes you’d see him chatting, both out loud and in sign language, with his character’s deaf girlfriend, Linda. Once, he famously helped explain the death of store owner Mr. Hooper – as much as anyone could, anyway – to a grief-stricken Big Bird, his own voice shaking as well at the passing of his real-life castmate.
In short, whether in good times or bad, he reflected a spirit of peace. The sort of spirit we celebrate now and really need more of.
I don’t just mean that Bob wasn’t violent. (You never got a lot of that on the Street, anyway.) I don’t even mean that he was quiet and soft-spoken. Peace means more than just “nobody’s fighting.” We’ve all been in uncomfortable situations where nobody’s arguing but nobody feels at ease, carefully keeping their guard up. Many parents know the moment when the kids are behaving with each other, but only because Mom and Dad are watching.
You have peace when you have community. Interconnection. Harmony in the most literal sense of the word: many different voices coming together to make a more beautiful chord. (As a good friend likes to point out, the old Greek word for peace comes from a verb that means “to tie” or “to weave.”)
You have peace when things are as they should be. Not because someone’s sitting on everybody else, but because everyone wants to help make them right. A world where … well, where you truly see the people in your neighborhood.
It’s not always easy. It certainly requires more than just a spirit of “If you don’t make trouble, you won’t get any.” Peace doesn’t do well in isolation. It needs someone to reach out to: to celebrate or console, to make right or support. It can soothe or call for justice, but it doesn’t just walk back into the house and close the door.
In other words, it’s a gift. Maybe one of the most important ones we can give each other, at this time or any other.
Bob’s character spoke to people where they were, whether that required ASL or the ability to connect with a 6-year-old. From what I can tell, the real Bob did exactly the same. People like that matter, especially in a day where so many chasms keep erupting.
And when they leave, that spirit doesn’t have to leave with them. It’s up to us to keep it going and help it spread.
Even when it hurts to remember that missing neighbor.
It’s fitting to end this in his own words, from the Mr. Hooper episode:
“You’re right, Big Bird. It’s … it’s … it’ll never be the same around here without him. But you know something? We can all be very happy that we had a chance to be with him, and to know him, and to love him a lot when he was here.”
May that be said of all of us.