Mary Poppins Returns

What was your most significant moment of 2018? It does not have to be a moment—it could be several moments or a “moment” that unfolds and is interconnected with other moments.  

It was over fifty years ago that my parents took me to the theater to see Mary Poppins. I was seven years old when I was introduced to the story of the Banks family and their supernatural nanny. My memory of the film is foggy as a London morning, but I do remember one detail that fascinated me when I was a young boy: Dick Van Dyke, the chimney sweep Bert, also played the role of the old banker, Mr. Dawes. In a recent interview, Mr. Van Dyke reveals that he had to pay Walt Disney to be double cast in that role. Mr. Dawes dies laughing (literally) and the chimney sweep, Bert, turns a soot-filled chimney into a “doorway to a place of enchantment.” The central message of Mary Poppins: “Everything is possible, even the impossible.”

Last week we took our seven year-olds to Mary Poppins Returns to be enchanted by the story, the musical numbers and the animated sequences. The film ends with a cameo by none other than Dick Van Dyke, reprising the part of the old banker, who does a little jig on the top of a desk. There was no double role for the nonagenarian Mr. Van Dyke. The part of Bert’s young apprentice is played by the talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is only slightly younger than Van Dyke was when he fulfilled the multi-dimensional role of Bert in the early 1960s.

Unlike the film’s magical ending of turning back the hands of time (literally-setting back the minute hand on Big Ben), we can only teleport ourselves back in time through our imaginations. Having the past be a canvas on which we paint the present can bring with it as sense of the familiar and a comfort we seek. That is why the writers and filmmakers weave countless references, props and places in this return engagement of Mary Poppins to meld the present with the past. And history, both in the film and in our lives has a way of repeating itself by weaving its way inter-generationally through family stories. These retellings can be as surface level as telling my girls “I saw Mary Poppins with my parents when I was seven,” to the back story of Mary Poppins’ creator, P.L. Travers, and her own father, a banker, who suffered with depression and died of alcohol poisoning at a young age. Walt Disney is portrayed in another film about Mary Poppins (Saving Mr. Banks) in which he promises Ms. Travers, that if she gives him the rights to her books, “George Banks will be redeemed. George Banks, and all that he stands for, will be saved. Now maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”

So how do we, stewards of the spirit and innkeepers of the imagination integrate awareness of the past while being fully in this moment. Can we “return” to an experience without getting caught up in it, can we conjure up our memories and yet see through new eyes. There were three seven year-olds in the theater on Christmas day because there I was with my seven year old self and my twin seven year-old daughters. Mary Poppins was infiltrating their senses and imagination on a relatively blank slate compared to mine. My moment for 2018 (and all its interconnecting threads) came in listening to a new song written for Mary Poppins Returns titled: Where the Lost Things Go:

Do you ever lie
Awake at night
Just between the dark
And the morning light
Searching for the things
You used to know
Looking for the place
Where the lost things go

Do you ever dream
Or reminisce
Wondering where to find
What you truly miss
Well maybe all those things
That you love so
Are waiting in the place
Where the lost things go

Memories you’ve shed
Gone for good you feared
They’re all around you still
Though they’ve disappeared
Nothing’s really left
Or lost without a trace
Nothing’s gone forever
Only out of place

Time to close your eyes
So sleep can come around
For when you dream you’ll find
All that’s lost is found
Maybe on the moon
Or maybe somewhere new
Maybe all you’re missing lives inside of you

Can we “return” and yet see through new eyes?

With best wishes for new beginnings, to find a place for the past which does not limit experiencing this moment, to laugh at attempts to turn back the hands of time and to enter “your doorway to enchantment.”


P.S. Please share you own 2018 moment with our community

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