It’s been a while since I’ve written a post about a movie, which is strange given how often I go to the movies–combined with the fact that I believe we can find the spark of the Divine anywhere, even in (especially in) secular pop culture.
Last week I ventured out for my Sunday evening routine of unwinding in a dark theater and chose to go light. Remembering how much I enjoyed the Mr. Peabody segments of Rocky and Bullwinkle when I was a kid, I looked forward to some nostalgia.
We were quickly introduced to the unlikely family of a dog who parents a boy. And it began with Mr. Peabody’s (the dog–in case you out of that loop) childhood (puppyhood?).
Mr. Peabody wasn’t like other dogs. He didn’t fetch after balls just to have a kid throw it again. He preferred reading books to the normal social activities of other canines. When offered the chance to become better acquainted with another dog (through the doggie behavior of sniffing), Mr. Peabody politely says “no thanks.”
He just wasn’t like other dogs. He was unique. And his uniqueness made him undesirable to the children who could have adopted him.
Mr. Peabody grew up alone. No family to cuddle him and care for him–and so he dived head-first into his passions and hobbies. We are treated to a montage of the cultured pup’s achievements which span from creating fine art and music to making lifesaving scientific breakthroughs and even receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.
But he is still alone.
Still, Mr. Peabody has no family.
Until one rainy evening (yeah–ignore the cliché and remember it’s a cartoon) he hears a cry coming from an alleyway he is rushing past.
Upon investigating he discovers Sherman, a tiny baby, crying out for attention from a cardboard box where he had been discarded like garbage…
When Mr. Peabody picks up the crying child the trajectory of his life comes to a screeching halt. No longer is it good enough to rack up awards and achievements, to build impressive financial portfolios, and to reside atop the empire of industry he has built from the ground up… there is something missing in the life of the dog no one wanted, and if he doesn’t do something about it, there will be something missing from the life of the boy no one wants.
It is heart-touching and there is a powerful lesson to be learned from it about what makes a family and about what is truly important in life. And all of that only takes up the first few moments of the movie–the remainder of the movie revolves around the attempt to destroy the unlikely family because of misunderstandings and fear about a dog-boy familial relationship (we’ll save that for another post).
I was one of those fortunate children who grew up in a “traditional” family. My parents were high school sweethearts who married young and have now been married for forty years. There are three children in my family, of which I am the middle born (yeah–I have middle child syndrome). We grew up in a house where we each had our own private room. Our parents were involved in our lives–they cared about our education and they were always present at our extracurricular activities. We went to church every Sunday where my parents were active in leadership roles and we children sat with our mother in the second pew while our father sang in the choir. Really, you can’t get much more traditional than we were.
But I quickly learned upon starting school that my family was not the only way a family could look. My two best friends came from families that looked different. For one, the father was mostly absent. For the other, the father was removed from her living situation. Both were the children of divorce. Both had half-siblings. One lived with her mother and sister in her grandmother’s house. The other moved from place to place, sometimes living with extended family, sometimes not.
And as I grew I made more friends and became more acquainted with the family units from which my parents came. This one didn’t know his parents at all and were being raised by a grandparent. That one had a father in prison. Another was in foster care. That one was adopted. This one was being raised by an aunt. And that one was caring more for his ill parents than they were able to care for him…
Some had one parents, some had two, some had no one they called “mom or dad” but had a loved one they cherished nonetheless.
In school I learned that families came in all sizes and appearances. Some were racially homogenous, some were racially diverse, some had one adult, some had three, and some had even more. There were any number of combinations of mothers, fathers, step-mothers, and step-fathers. There were siblings and half-siblings… and regardless of the way they fit together they were all families.
This was the beauty of Dreamwork’s Mr. Peabody & Sherman . It captured what it meant to be a family without presenting an exclusive portrait–because family is not about fulfilling roles, but about the love we hold in our hearts for each other.
I know this, because around the same time I was learning that families come in all shapes and sizes I was learning that some of my classmates were in “traditional” families and were miserable–parents who fought with each other, parents who abused each other and their children, siblings who hurt each other and their parents, drugs and alcohol and sexual misconduct tearing families apart.
Some of these kids had a hollow look in their eyes as the result of the core concept of family which was missing from their lives: love. They would have given anything to have someone to love them, to care about them, to protect them. They would have given anything for a Mr. Peabody of their own.
And as the church, this is where I think we need to enter into the picture.
Sometimes, the church has attempted to do this by limiting who can and cannot be a family–but I don’t think this is the method we should follow. We shouldn’t be forcing people to fit neatly into the portraits we have in our minds of “family”, but we should become family to anyone and everyone who is seeking it.
We have a lot we can learn from Mr. Peabody and Sherman–the dog who adopted a boy. Love doesn’t know borders, it doesn’t adhere to labels, and wherever love is, there will be family.