Usually it’s round numbers that mark the biggest anniversaries, probably because it’s easy to divide by ten. I’m sure some people celebrate their 7th wedding anniversary like it was their 50th, or make a point to fete their 27th birthday like it was some kind of Turbo SuperChristmas. But our digital biology isn’t always what makes occasions momentous. Certainly not for me today, here at the end of the 21st anniversary of Jim Henson’s death:
For some reason the fact that it’s 21 years, not 20 or even 50, resonates. Maybe because here in the U.S., 21 is the legal drinking age–a notable rite of passage. Yes, 18 is technically when our society recognizes its inhabitants as adults, but 21 is when it really counts: there is nothing within the law that your age restricts you from doing. (It’s true that you still aren’t eligible to become a Senator or the President, but I’m limiting the scope to things that sane people actually want to do.) And a large swath of those age 18-21 are in college, which is for most still adulthood-in-training. So even though dolls and Matchbox cars may have been put down many years before, it’s at age 21 when many people pick up their first legal beers and wash them away for good.
But not everyone. Does becoming a grownup have to mean completely turning your back on the things that you loved as child? Or do you take your oldest inspirations and dreams with you, and acknowledge them as critical parts of your internal compass, and through you allow them to take on new life?
Jim Henson was much more than an entertainer. Although visionary and legendary in that regard, it was the values of love and understanding permeating all of his characters and projects that dug the deepest. Lots of cartoon and TV characters made me laugh; Grover, Kermit, Fozzie Bear, and Gonzo the Great were my friends. And so tonight I lift a glass tonight to Jim Henson, departed from us 21 years ago. But not in the ways that really matter.
I fought hard trying to keep from getting too maudlin, and hope I didn’t slip too far. If I did, please go visit the website of James Hance, whose art will make you smile in the spirit of Jim Henson (a sample of his art is at the top of the post.)
But if like me you still feel the need to mourn as much as celebrate, watch (or re-watch, as the case probably is) Big Bird’s tribute to Jim from his Memorial at St. John’s in NYC. Just keep some tissues handy. Then go re-watch your favorite episode of the Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, some Sesame Street, The Muppet Movie, or even run down some of his old appearances on The Jimmy Dean Show. Because if he were here, he’d almost certainly rather see you smiling.