Last week, a terrible tragedy befell the United States. I don’t need to cover the details of this heinous attack, as you are no doubt aware of them already and new information surfaces every day. Unfortunately, as these kinds of things happen again and again, what I write today could apply to almost any other day in America. To consider the extent and enormity of the heartbreak experienced in Las Vegas is to weep for humanity, for the community, and for the individuals that have lost so much.
It’s at times like these that I turn to my childhood comforts for solace. The last few days, my brain has played for me over and over again a song that I didn’t even really like as a child, nor have I thought about it in almost 20 years. That song is “Feed the Birds” from the 1964 Disney classic, Mary Poppins.
I grew up with Mary Poppins and must have watched it at least a dozen times on VHS. Most of the people I know who loved it cite the friendly chimneysweeps and the cartoon dancing penguins as their favorite parts. However, they kind of gloss over the actual plot of the film, especially the boring bits towards the end. Some may recall that Mr. Banks gets fired from the bank and decides that the family should all go fly a kite with their newfound free time. Few, however, remember that the cause of this plot climax was because the boy, Michael, defied the governors of the bank by insisting that, rather than invest his tuppence with them, he would rather feed the birds outside.
This idea was, of course, suggested to him by Mary Poppins the night before, who, upon learning that the children will be visiting the bank, points out that they will be passing by Saint Paul’s Cathedral, where, “Early each day,” something special happens. A little old bird woman comes to sell the passers-by crumbs with which to feed the birds for a mere “tuppence a bag.” It is a simple act of kindness to which she has dedicated her life, but that is unsustainable without the small kindness of those who pass her willing buy a bag. The framework of altruism exists, but individuals must participate for it to be given meaning.
The song is sweet, slow and beautiful, but was always the worst part of the film in my mind because it was much more boring than the Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious numbers that preceded it, with all their color and fun. Today, however, I watch it and realize that the true moral of the story is laid bare in this two-minute sequence. Just tuppence to show that you care can make all the difference.
What follows is the stark contrast of the bankers, who wish to indoctrinate Michael into their capitalist machine, ultimately terminating the employment of their father over that same inconsequential tuppence. Of course, the film’s themes delve into broader issues, even dedicating yet another overlooked song extolling the Sister Suffragettes, but Feed the Birds sums up the central thesis beautifully: showing a little kindness to those in need is the most important thing one can do.
Whenever an event like this occurs, it takes a vanishingly brief time for pundits and commentators on both sides to start hurling blame, with little thought for the humanity of the situation, the anguish of those personally affected. The right decries the left for politicizing the issue, the left blames the right for blocking common-sense legislation, and the bickering often drowns out the cries of parents and children who have lost loved ones. Just as the people milling around the City ignore the hungry birds, so do we neglect those actually affected by the events we discuss at such length. In those times, when we find ourselves wading in the arguments, we should remember the gentlest part of that song: “Listen, listen, she’s calling to you.”