Mad About Mary

A few weeks ago, my husband and I hosted, in our home, a group of 20 incoming freshmen at the university where he is a professor. We regularly host smaller groups (every Tuesday evening) for games and cookies, but every so often we have a larger group in for a meal. During this particular event (can you believe that they consumed 72 mini pizzas, 5 lbs. of chicken nuggets, 150 chocolate chip cookies, and well, too much more to list here?), we played a game we call “George” which is a rather fun, active – some might say raucous – means of getting to know others that involves cards, dice, tables of four, and switching places so that everyone has the opportunity to meet every single person in attendance.

As you might imagine, an evening like that, while it is energizing for the students, can be rather exhausting for the hosts. So, while we absolutely LOVE doing it, after the students are gone and we have cleaned up the chaos, we collapse into our recliners in the living room and talk about how the evening went. We particularly focus on if our goal was met of helping these new students form relationships with their peers so that they can be a mutual support as they travel the same path toward degree completion.

After analyzing if everyone seemed to be included and had a good time, the conversation drifted to the topic of “favorite movies of all time.” When discussing this particular topic in the past, we have noticed that when you ask someone this question, they are most likely to respond with a fairly recent film because that is the one at the top of their memory. As we continued to talk, we both settled on what you might think is a rather odd choice. Both of us share the same favorite – Mary Poppins.

You might be surprised because you might be under the impression that this Disney film is a children’s movie. And, while it is appropriate for children, I believe that it speaks directly, and rather emphatically, to adults – and more specifically, parents.

The movie starts out telling the story of a rather dysfunctional family. They have no idea they are dysfunctional, but the parents are so caught up in their independent lives (the father at work and the mother with her social activism) that they do not have the time, or rather, do not take the time to spend time with their children. The children, Jane and Michael, act out as a way of getting attention to the point that the latest in a long string of nannies hired by the family suddenly quits. The search for a nanny takes two very different directions, the father wanting a strict disciplinarian and the children wanting someone to love and pay attention to them.

That is when the heroine of the story arrives. Blowing in on an east wind, Mary Poppins takes the position as nanny and immediately turns the household on its proverbial head – taking the children on outings with what the father feels are less that suitable mentors, and, in the end forcing the father’s hand as he ends up watching the children for the day.

In a seemingly disastrous turn of events, the father loses his job and spends the night mending a broken kite so that he and the family can fly it in the morning. It is during the family outing to fly the kite that he learns the news that he has been re-hired at the bank. He returns to his job with a renewed commitment to not allowing other influences to rob him of his precious time with the ones he loves the most.

The movie comes to an end with the family mended – much like the kite – and Mary Poppins leaves stating that her job has been completed.

In addition to the message of the importance of family, and spending time with those we love, there are many other very important messages as well – opening your eyes and heart to those around you who seem invisible ("Feed the Birds"), valuing people in all stations of life (Burt – "Jolly Holiday"), not being afraid to laugh and enjoy yourself (Uncle Albert – "I Love to Laugh"), and keeping your work in perspective ("Fidelity Fiduciary Bank"), just to name a few.

It is said that Walt Disney’s favorite song of all time is in this movie. Whenever he had the chance, he would always request that “Feed the Birds” be played. In honor of this, after his death when his statue was dedicated at Disney World, the original composer played and sang this song and, as a beautiful coincidence, a single bird gently flew past.

But there is a story behind this song that shows the character of the man, Walt Disney. When searching for the actress to play the indigent bird woman on the steps of St. Paul, Disney reached out to Jane Darwell. At the time, she had long “retired” (been labeled as “too old”) from acting and was residing in a care facility. The last time she had worked was when she played Ma Joad in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Instead of taking her acceptance for granted, Disney sent the script to her to read, and then personally asked her to consider his request. She wept upon reading the script and being honored in such a way. Then, when it was time to film her scene in the movie, Disney arranged for a limousine to pick her up at the facility, and drive her to the studio where she was received as a star.

In honoring Ms. Darwell in this manner, long since she had been considered a person of value by others in the industry, Disney lived out the message of his favorite song – and my favorite movie of all time.

As we go through our daily lives, may we have the open eyes, and open hearts, to all those around us, even – and maybe especially – those whose value is not seen by the world. May we take a moment of our time to “feed the birds” and recognize what we can do to make the lives of those around us better.