Today, I was talking to my sister. She has been writing songs. They are beautiful. She is speaking about our mother's death. Yes, my mother died. I have ached to write something, but each time I sit down to try, I can't. I don't know why. Maybe I haven't found the words, or they haven't found me yet. In April, she was diagnosed. Brain cancer. She fought. She fought hard. But in June, she had moved on. I miss her terribly.
This is what I wrote for her memorial, though my words have been few since. Maybe they will find me.
Anyone who knows my mom has likely been acquainted with her affinity for The Muppets. Through the hallways at Cal State, her Muppet and Sesame Street CDs might be heard from time to time. She would joke that people might think she was crazy, but I think she enjoyed the fact that it drew people into her office and that it brought a smile to their faces.
She would often be asked who her favorite Muppet was and without hesitation she would reply: “Kermit”. She loved the song, “It’s Not Easy Being Green” where Kermit is ruminating about identity and accepting yourself even if sometimes you feel you fade into the background. I think she enjoyed the character of Kermit and how he was always trying to manage the madness around him and allowing other people to shine. My mom knew how to do this and yet, deep down, she wasn’t fully a Kermit. No. My mother was a Gonzo. Why is she a Gonzo? Well, let’s examine the evidence.
After Kermit meets Gonzo he asks himself: What is Gonzo anyway? “He’s a little like a turkey. Yeah, a little like a turkey, but not much.” The other muppets classified him as a Weirdo, or a Whatever. Gonzo was unique. There was never any doubt that my mom was as well. There is a quote from a movie that I enjoy where someone something to the effect of “when you start out in life standing out, you just keep on standing out”. My mom embraced her “differentness”. She couldn’t help the fact that she was tall, striking, and redheaded, but she embraced it fully and started to stand out in other ways as well. The way she walked with purpose, her commanding voice that when she sang you could hear her from far away. Her whistling any tune she had heard. Even in expressing herself, she would sound different. Her large vocabulary and unique writing style certainly let you know it was her. A family favorite being “Nice evasive maneuver, Matthew!” after my brother had a near miss on a sledding adventure. Even if, perhaps, she worried about being ordinary, it was clear she wasn’t. And, like a friend said, “did I mention she had red hair?”
Gonzo is well known for his many ideas. Sometimes, it wouldn’t work out so well, but it never spoiled his enthusiasm or desire to try again. Once before a stunt, Floyd Pepper asks Gonzo “Do you think it will work?” to which Gonzo responds, “No! Isn’t it terrific?” Our mom was always full of ideas. Even when she was ill, I would get phone calls from her that would start out, “I’ve got a couple of ideas for you....” Even when something wouldn’t work out, her mind would still be percolating on something new or thinking of another way to approach a problem.
Gonzo and Kermit are both known for being fearless. Kermit for leaving the swamp and pursuing his dream and sharing it with others. Gonzo for his stunts and generally living his life on the edge. She was ahead of her time in many ways which I think carries with it a great degree of fearlessness. She was certainly not afraid of being herself. The only time she seemed to fear anything was when it regarded someone she loved and cared about, rarely was it fear for herself. She’d shoot herself out of a cannon if the situation called for it! I think she inspired others to be fearless as well, to go after what they wanted, the way she did.
How do we remember such an individual? Well, I’ve got a couple of ideas. Be yourself, don’t be afraid to be daring and follow where your heart and your mind lead you. And even though she is no longer in our company, in the words of Gonzo: “We can hold onto love like invisible strings”.
So whether she was being a Kermit and bringing people together or a Gonzo and pulling off feats that are unexpected, I’d like to say in her own words, “What a character!”