Message In A Bottle

I was more than a little bit disappointed when the news broke last week that You Tube sensation Lonelygirl15 was a hoax.

It’s not so much that I found her on camera mini-drama that compelling. In fact, I’m not sure I even sat through an entire episode. I did appreciate, though, that her story was unique, compelling, and genuine. Here, it appeared, was a case where — as Smokey Junglefrog bassist Paul Perreault often preached — great art found an audience.

Cut to the final chapter: the admission that it was all staged; written, produced, and acted by a quartet of Hollywood also rans. And, of course, it’s now for sale on Revver.

“Nothing is real,” I said to anyone who’d listen. “And everything is for sale.”

Maybe it’s “Rock Star: Supernova,” “Survivor: Cook Island,” or even that old whipping boy, “The Real World” (now casting its 19th season in Tuscon, Arizona). Maybe it’s Ashlee Simpson, Dannity Kane, or My Chemical Romance, all perfectly coifed and coached for maximum market penetration.

Maybe it’s the cans of Coca Cola so deliberately placed on Paul, Randy, and Simon’s “American Idol” desks. Maybe it’s the “Akeelah and the Bee” heat sleeves wrapped around my Starbucks veinte mild. Maybe it’s the sensory overload of Times Square, or the chyron on the Yankees game brought to me by Budweiser, or the Lexus ad at the end of “The News Hour With Jim Lehrer.”

Whatever it is, I can’t escape the feeling that nothing is real, and everything is for sale. So much so that I emailed my friend, “I’m Proud Of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers” author, Tim Madigan, for advice.

How do you manage all of the cultural imperatives towards shallow and complex? How do you keep your life meaningful when it feels like everything is conspiring against it?

Tim wrote back this morning, kindly resisting the urge to call me crazy.

I know how you feel. But I tend to fall back on something a black man, a dean at the Harvard Business School, told me when we were discussing the racism that is still so rampant in this country. How did he keep from giving in to despair, wondered. He said, something to the effect of, “You just have to look around you and see all the good people who are trying to make a difference.” I think that’s true. They’re not hard to find. They are everywhere, the helpers, as Fred would say. You’re one of them. So feel good about that, and keep the faith.

After work, I printed out the transcript from my interview with activist, mystic, and author, Bo Lozoff, and read it on the subway. Each elapsed word took me back to that sunny June day in North Carolina…

I was sitting in Fred Rogers’ office talking with the staff of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” about children and violence on that Tuesday, [the exact] moment that the shootings were happening at Columbine. We finished that conversation, we went out to our car, we turned on the radio, we heard about this thing that had just happened in Columbine. And it’s exactly what we were just talking about that children seem to be losing all hope. And what I said was, “You know, there’s three simple words or ideas that you could apply to a rich life. You say that there’s something beautiful, something noble, and something sacred. And just brief examples of what I mean by that: the sun set If we allow it to touch us. You know, do you and I take time in our daily lives — I’m talking about seconds — to consciously be moved or touched by something we consider beautiful? All I have to do is pick up my guitar and I’m in beauty. The Arts are a link between the temporal, the mundane world, and the eternal, the mystical. It gets us a little bit out of our mind. Something beautiful is something that touches us. Something you say, “Oh, my. Oh, my.” Something noble, by that I mean, like that second principle of all the great spiritual traditions, something we believe in is larger than us, something we look up to: a cause, an idea, a person, an elder, a bird, nature. But something that we consider is worth sacrificing for, or worth taking a risk for. Something sacred, do we have those moments when our heads are truly bowed in humility at the grandeur, the greatness and the vastness, the incompressibility of what this human life is everyday. And when I said it on that Tuesday, the day of Columbine was, “If either of those two kids, thought there was a single thing in the world — a word, an idea, a song, a rock group, a movie, a bird, a person, a religion — if there was a single thing in the world that either of those kids thought was beautiful, noble or sacred, they never could have done what they did.” And then I just realized with a shudder, “Oh my God! Is it possible that tens of millions of Americans, don’t feel they have any time for beautiful, noble or sacred?” It’s the vicious crushing pace of this life about wanting stuff and getting stuff and having stuff and using stuff and buying stuff and then of course replacing stuff, repairing stuff, protecting stuff defending stuff, you know, that it’s so vicious, it’s anti-life.

Back home, tonight, I watched “Mister Rogers: Americas favorite Neighbor” on DVD. In one of the interviews, there was an oil painting of his Crooked House in Nantucket just over his shoulder in his office. I went there for a moment in my mind, and quietly imagined the sun setting over the whisper of the wind through the high, dune grass. And when I looked around for helpers, I saw them everywhere around me.

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