Over the summer, I had the privilege of directing a production of "Mary Poppins Jr" with some of the brightest and intuitive middle school and high school students I have ever encountered in my life. They were so empathetic and cared so deeply about the others around them, sometimes to a fault. Everyone was involved with everyone's business, but then again, if I were a seventh grader trapped with 60 other kids my age at a theatre camp for nearly 40 hours a week, I would be too.
As we got further and further into the show, I thought a lot about what lessons I could use from "Mary Poppins" to not only help the show grow but help the kids grow as well. As a mentor and teacher to these young artists, I felt it was my responsibility to help them get the most out of the experience.
I thought a lot about the character of George Bank, an overworked stressed father and husband. He sounds like he could be anyone's dad. The movie "Saving Mr. Banks," starring the genius Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, really struck a chord with me and led me to use it as a driving force for the kids. The movie, if you aren't aware, is about Walt Disney attempting to acquire the rights from P.L. Travers (the author of the "Mary Poppins" books) to make the beloved movie starring Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke. A major plot point in the movie is Disney's misunderstanding of what Travers is trying to say: the magical nanny Mary Poppins did not come to "save" the children— she came to save Mr. Banks.
I took this and used it to motivate my kids. I wanted them to figure out who Mary Poppins really came for, the kids or the parents. I challenged them to draw comparisons between themselves and their own parents as Mary Poppins sings, "Childhood is a step in time / Parenthoods the same." On closing night (and after a relatively long and emotionally draining process), I sat the entire cast down and asked them:
"Who did Mary Poppins come to save?"
Once again, these kids flung up their hands and delivered some of the most eloquent and profound responses. Finally, someone mentioned "Mr. Banks." My face was grinning like an idiot. They arrived at my point all by themselves. Then I threw them another curveball:
"What does that show?"
The kids scratched their heads. They didn't know. In their defense, I was getting super deep with them and they were, after all, for the most part still in middle school. I smiled at them before delivering my next phrase, my final words of wisdom, if you will:
"Everyone is capable of being saved. It doesn't matter what your story is or where you come from or who you look like. You are worthy of happiness and love. And you are loved here."
I was getting really choked up, which was surprising to me and I think to a couple of the kids. I was so emotionally detached from the kids for the most part because of our close age range. I felt that it was the most responsible and appropriate approach to my job as their director and camp counselor. So for them to see "Mr. Freddie" getting emotional, it was something rare.
I remember driving home from the theater that night, wondering if I was in the right by telling the kids that.
Can you really save everyone? Did I just feed a room full of kids a bunch of lies?
My first month of college has been a whirlwind socially. For the majority of high school, I was surrounded constantly by adults. I was a supervisor at my job where I was in charge of managing kids mostly my age. I volunteered a lot at a local theatre where I was constantly viewed as "one of them," meaning an adult. Heck, I ate lunch in my orchestra teacher's office every single day because I didn't have any friends my own age. And the ones that I did came with me to the office for lunch!
I met someone that was so much like me.
They had the same interests, the same passions, the same everything. They got me on a level that I don't think anyone has ever gotten me before. They came into my life kind of suddenly, and for two weeks, we were kind of inseparable. We hit it off really early on, which was surprising. They confided in me some of their deepest, darkest secrets. I felt a responsibility to be there for them. But when I tried to be there for them, they shut me out.
I didn't know what I had done wrong. Did I say too much? Did I not say the right thing? What was wrong with me? I wanted to be there for them. I wanted to save them.
But they didn't want that. They didn't want me.
When I say the word "save," I don't mean a knight in shining armor running across the forest to save the damsel in distress. I mean, being there for someone. Holding someone as they cry into your shoulder. Listening to them. Really listening. Helping them to heal. I wanted to do that for this person because I felt like I never had someone to do that for me. And here I was, with an opportunity, to be there for someone else.
I seized it with all of my might.
But they let go. And they pushed me away.
It was at that moment that I realized that you can't save everyone. That is, you can't save everyone if they don't want to be saved. That was when I realized what I told my kids was still true.
Everyone is capable of being saved, but not everyone is willing to be saved. Some people will push you away. They will reject your help. They will want to journey alone.
And that is okay.
But you cannot allow yourself to fall apart when that happens. You have to stay strong.
George Banks is only able to be saved in the ending of "Mary Poppins" because he goes on a journey and learns to truly value what life is about— not work, but his family. If he refused Mary Poppins help, she never would have been able to save him.
If someone wants to walk out of your life, let them go.
I came across this video a week ago or so, not realizing how powerful these words would be.
So to my kiddos involved with "Mary Poppins," allow me to add a little bit more wisdom.
Everyone is capable of being saved. It doesn't matter what your story is or where you come from or who you look like. You are worthy of happiness and love. And you are loved here. But you can't save everyone if they don't want to be saved. And if they don't want to be saved, it is not your fault. Even if it destroys you.
And if it does destroy you, pick yourself up, dig through the rubble, and make something beautiful.
Because we're artists. That's what we do.
We make something beautiful.