Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Step-In-Time?

Is the Christmas spirit here in time to spare me my grief over the loss of my brother to suicide four months ago? To file away years of Christmas memories that are near and dear? To say 'enough' and create new memories; change things up so my heart can be open to reinventing myself after yet another trauma?

I'm doing my best yet I feel, like most 'survivors' of disease, trauma, or loss, that it might be impossible.

The movie Saving Mr. Banks about P. L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins series, sheds light on this difficult topic. Expecting a lighthearted film about Walt Disney and 'Mrs. Travers,' as she insists she be called, I was proven wrong yet not disappointed.


An early childhood filled with turmoil and loss, left the very grown-up Mrs. Travers (nee Helen Lyndon Goff) unable to part with her imaginary world except as she wrote it. She was unable to give the gift of her pretend paradise to the rest of us on film a la Disney's vision for nearly 20 years and Disney never earned authorization for any of her subsequent books. Ultimately, she did but was none too pleased with the results.

You see, Helen Goff retreated into a world of fantasy (enabled and encouraged by her charismatic yet alcoholic father) as a balm to harsher realties. So, too, did Disney in his own way, according to the movie. Yet Disney chose to change his real life experiences with his fanciful mind, creating characters and rewriting history to cope. That, he explains to Mrs. Travers, is how to escape the awfulness of  her youth and turn it into something wonderful. I was awestruck by the concept.


As a lifelong writer, I  penned non-fiction works; first for newspapers and magazines and then for corporate clients and, finally, in a memoir about dealing with near-fatal and chronic illness. I haven't descended (or ascended) into a world of fantasy - yet. I have started fiction novels but have preferred to pour out my heart in truth. Maybe it's time to stop. Maybe it's time to turn my attention towards characters and situations I can control with happy outcomes. I simply do not know.

At this Christmas crossroads, I find myself longing for my fantastical brother who, like Disney, could make up a world with a few paintbrush strokes as well as silly songs and stories. Imagining the end he chose for himself is nearly as unbearable as it is unacceptable. I know I have to deal.

Step In Time is one of the most favorite and beloved songs from the 1964 movie version of Mary Poppins. It's refrain: "Never need a reason, never need a rhyme..." embodies living with joy; without a care in the world. It's a song I danced around and around with my children when they were young. It's a song that fills you with hope and the 'happies,' as my children called it.

And it's a song I can choose to play over and over in my head to make this Christmas new and fresh and imagine my brother, like carefree Bert, doing the dance atop the clouds.

Merry Christmas...

Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins; 1964

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