We are not fit for pedestals. Neither are the things we invent worthy of our worship. This is easier explained out than understood. We are a beguiling species, made of souls and of minds that produce ideas and products over which it is difficult not to marvel. And yet, we are daily reminded that those souls and those minds with their concepts and objects are finite, are fleeting, are rarely fixed and without need of revision.
Even so, when a man emerges who is capable of fashioning something so beloved and indispensable we cannot imagine our lives without it, there is no tempering our awe or gratitude. He will ever exist, for us, in a beholden space. We feel that we owe him for easing our way, for solving our conundrums, for simplifying our complexities. But we are not ourselves inventors. We cannot barter genius for genius. Instead we trade innovation for adulation.
And this is where it is impossible not to stumble.
I was reminded of this yesterday, as an unsettling story leaked about the creator of one of our country’s most beloved children’s properties.
Some news rushes and recedes like water, affecting for only a few moments, making you flush before gathering quick composure. But then there are the stories that won’t let you go. They are no more heinous than others you’ve heard; in fact, they may be mild by comparison. But they hit you in a spot newly vulnerable, at a time that will not allow you to ignore them.
This was such news.
As a parent whose daughter is still too young to qualify her adoration or to understand that the magic of furry red monsters is merely the sleight of a mortal’s hand, this story saddened me far more than I could’ve imagined. It is a sadness that becomes more familiar with age, as my years of hindsight gradually fill with men who’ve been knocked from high thrones. The highest, longest, most unexpected falls are the most unnerving, but they all begin with that initial shock. The he couldn’t have done this. The this couldn’t be. The don’t judge and wait for all the facts. And, perhaps most disingenuously of all, the denials of any wrongdoing.
This is the insulation that being iconic earns you.
For our sons and daughters, for now and for as long as possible, this news needn’t mean anything at all. For us, the adults and the parents, over time, it may come to mean very little. The property will prevail, future generations of children will benefit, oblivious, and the mortal’s once unblemished reputation will remain besmirched at best or obliterated at worst. We do not know which legal lines, if any, have been crossed*. But certainly a line of judgment has been blurred, and because of the position of the man who must tow it, a large price will be paid.
To varying degrees, we will all be excised.
Man is, of course, much more than the poorest of his choices. But in order to recognize this, he must fall, and we must begin to feel discomfited by our willingness to worship him. Then only we will be prepared to accept the truth of who he is.
* Update: We do now.