There’s a dark side to our holiday celebrations. Many of us have families that are broken. My birth family is broken. First of all, we’re down from nine “kids” to six. Of the survivors, some are close. Others are estranged or separated by distance. I was reminded about broken families when I watched the movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
This is not a typical “holiday movie.” It focuses on broken people and broken families and how Mister Roger’s brand of kindness can heal them. I could definitely identify with the main character, a troubled journalist. OK, I’m not as troubled as this guy, but I have some of the same tendencies.
Like him, I can hold grudges, feud with family members, and I’m a former master of the silent treatment. I can stubbornly hold onto hurts and refuse to forgive people who hurt me. When you watch a character like this, it’s obvious their anger is hurting them more than people they resent. But they can’t see it.
The journalist is assigned to write a profile of Fred Rogers. He is skeptical about the folksy host. To his credit, he doesn’t set out to write a puff piece but asks penetrating questions. Rogers is unafraid to reveal character flaws and his own family’s problems. He also goes to extraordinary lengths to heal the journalist and his broken family relationships.
I was comparing notes with friends about the brokenness of our families. One grew up in a large feuding family in Forest Park. Now that they are adults, there’s even more division in his family. “We put the ‘dys’ in dysfunctional,” he joked.
It’s not uncommon for large families like his to fall apart, especially when the parents are gone. It also happens in smaller families. A Forest Park friend told me his brother hasn’t spoken to him, since they disagreed about the invasion of Iraq. Politics can divide family and friends, especially during these toxic times.
There are also families that keep it together, no matter how tough the circumstances. I have cousins who lost their dad at a young age. Their family could have easily fallen apart. He credited his older sister for saving the family. She has hosted Thanksgiving every year since their dad died in 1978.
That kind of hospitality is extraordinary, but we all know people who host family parties year after year. It’s a lot of work and expense but they don’t complain. When I was growing up, my family hosted holiday parties out of necessity. There were so many of us, we never got invited anywhere. Besides, we loved it. We had two ovens cranking and our table set with fancy china.
The strangers we invited really made the feast special. We hosted priests, teachers, foreign students, and other people who had no place to go for the holidays. They kept us on our best behavior because we never fought in front of strangers.
Inviting strangers and hosting parties are examples of the simple kindness Mr. Rogers advocated. He knew how to heal people, especially children. He dealt with some dark issues on the show. He felt that by exposing fears, we could deal with them in a healthy way.
So if you’re feeling a bit broken this holiday season, this movie could help. It shows how kindness can heal our souls. It also shows the courage it takes to be kind to people who have hurt us.
Even the Holy Family was broken. An unmarried pregnant teenage girl and her humiliated husband-to-be showed how healing can occur under the most difficult circumstances.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com