Six-year-olds are going to ask, “Does Big Bird have a cold?” “What’s wrong with Oscar?” “Who are they trying to fool?”
Caroll Spinney, the man inside Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, is retiring after nearly 50 years of delivering comforting lines like “Bad days happen to everyone, but when one happens to you, just keep doing your best” and grouchy lines like “Now leave me alone and get lost!”
Spinney is 84 years old and knows what he is doing, but I keep thinking, “What is he doing?”
Where do you go to retire when you have been on Sesame Street since 1969? What neighborhood is going to have such sunny days? Where is the air going to be so sweet? Where will he find such friendly neighbors? Does he understand that there are not many places where everything’s A-Okay? How can a retirement community be an improvement when you have lived on a street where birds, monsters, and people live in harmony?
Spinney met his wife Debra in 1972 while in the Big Bird costume. What woman would not be impressed? He is going to miss wearing bright yellow feathers and being 8 feet, 2 inches tall.
Big Bird danced with the Rockettes. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and his likeness on a stamp. He conducted symphony orchestras. Big Bird starred in his own movie Follow That Bird and guest starred on Saturday Night Live, The West Wing and The Colbert Report. He has been the BBF (best bird friend) for so many children. When asked how he could still be six years old after being around for so long Big Bird replied, “Just lucky, I guess.”
Why would anyone want to leave Sesame Street?
Maybe the inside of Big Bird – like Sesame Street itself – is a little claustrophobic. Spinney may feel the need to spread his wings and fly. Perhaps there is a clue in that once, while in an airplane, Big Bird said, “Isn’t flying wonderful? It makes me feel like a bird.”
On the other hand, do people eventually get tired of sunny days, cloudless skies and friendly neighbors? Could it be that we can only be kind and sweet for so long?
That is why we need Oscar. What could be more therapeutic than being both Big Bird and Oscar? A tender, nurturing, childlike avian is great, but there is a part of us that is a crabby, trash-talking, green monster. Big Bird and Oscar are yin and yang, Jekyll and Hyde, Mary Kate and Ashley. Oscar’s different perspective reminds us that there are other perspectives.
“What could be more therapeutic than being both Big Bird and Oscar?”
Big Bird shows us how to be kind, but Oscar teaches us that it is okay to be grouchy. Sometimes we do not want to talk, and that is fine. We can think – even if we should not say – “Scram!”, “Get lost!”, “Go away!” We can be cranky without being a bad person.
Caroll Spinney may find the world outside his old neighborhood is easier for Oscar than Big Bird. Most places are not as pristine as Sesame Street. Most air is not that sweet. Some neighbors are more irritating than Bert and Ernie.
Most of us have days when we might as well live in a garbage can. We act like Big Bird, while we feel like Oscar. We are gentle, disgruntled and lovable. We need to be in touch with the grouch that stands up for what is right.
We need the joy of a gargantuan canary, but we also need the feistiness of a complaining Muppet. We need to know our bad moods are not the end of the world.
That could be how we get to Sesame Street.