Three Simple Ideas

I was discussing the installation of lipstick, keyhole, and robotic cameras at yet another entertainment awards show when a colleague looked down at his Blackberry and said, “I think the fact that the number of dead just rose from two to twenty-two warrants our coverage.”

Barely twenty-four hours later, we have a crew of ten on site, a live show in edit, and a slew of online reportage. And while I have told my colleagues more than once that it is in these difficult moments that our efforts to demonstrate empathy and build community make me most proud, I can’t help but feel conflicted. Why is it that networks pull most of their advertising at times like these? Because most of their advertising messages the very action inflicted upon unwitting Virginia Tech students yesterday.

Moreover, I feel a deep sense of deja vu. Last June, Chris and I interviewed author and mystic Bo Lozoff for our “Mister Rogers & Me” documentary. Bo put it thusly:

We’re a society who, rather than sitting down with some Walter Cronkite or Mister Rogers figure and saying “We gotta take stock of the fact that our children are the angriest, most violent children who have ever been born, we’re the most depressed adults, and our life goes so fast every day and everything is so rushed and hurried that we’re labeling a lot of people as ADD and ADHD and maybe, maybe it’s not them…”

What do we do instead of that? We throw our children into the system. We drug them. We sacrifice our children at the alter of consumerism.

I was sitting with my wife in Fred Rodger’s office talking with the staff of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood about children and violence on a Tuesday — the very moment that the shootings at Columbine were happening. We went out to our car, we turned on the radio, and we heard about this thing that had just happened in Columbine, Colorado. And it’s exactly what we were just talking about: children seem to be losing all hope. And what I had said was, “You know, there’s three simple ideas that you could apply to a rich life: there’s something beautiful, something noble, and something sacred.”

Something beautiful: the sun set, if we allow it to touch us. 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, to me, are a link between the temporal, the mundane world, and the eternal, the mystical. The arts get us a little bit out of our mind, whether that’s music or performing arts or visual art. 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, worth getting something out 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. Not everybody is out killing their schoolmates, but is it possible that tens of millions of Americans don’t feel they have any time for beautiful, noble or sacred?”

I 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? It’s so vicious. It’s anti-life.

I think that’s what Mister Rogers meant when he told me, “I feel so strongly that deep and simple are far, far more essential than shallow and complex.” I think that’s what Mister Rogers was talking about when he talked with Amy Hollingsworth about Madaket sunsets.

The whole thing makes me feel sad.

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