I have a confession to make: I’m prejudiced.
I’m generally open-minded and enjoy relating to people of races, creeds, or socio-economic backgrounds different than mine. To be a good Catholic is to love the diversity in others and the tableau of personalities and physical types God has created on this beautiful planet. But, before you cannot suppress your gag reflex, let me admit a shameful character flaw. I am terrified of, and prejudiced against, Wooden and Felt Americans; puppets and ventriloquist dummies make me want to scream.
I’m not exactly sure why my blood curdles in my veins when I see one of these humanoid substitutes. It might be some repressed trauma from years of “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” viewings in my youth. It could well be that terrifying movie from the year 1978, “Magic”, in which ventriloquist Anthony Hopkins was powerless against his manipulative dummy. Even that “Hoarders: Buried Alive” show I saw about a woman whose spare bedroom was filled top-to-bottom with puppets might have been a contributing factor. Whatever the reasons, puppets, dummies and I had had a tacit agreement for our paths never to cross… until I was forced to face my shortcoming.
The innocent query hit my email box last month; the subject line “Do you like puppets?” caused me to recoil from the keyboard immediately. It was a request from my former editor to interview a married couple who did catechesis for children. Fine, but the fact that they engaged their young audience using puppets and dummies made my blood pressure rise precipitously. The newspaper’s esteemed wordsmith didn’t know about my prejudice, and I wasn’t willing to admit this character flaw to him, so I stocked up on antacids and took the assignment.
I was pleasantly surprised. The long-married catechists loved bringing the Good News to children, greasepaint, fabric, strings and all. Using colorful costumes and squeaky-voiced characters, the husband and wife offered prayerful insights into Scripture and helped their young audiences learn of God’s love and gifts to those who believe. I tried to look past the felt and wood and see the value of their mission, and hope I portrayed that value to the paper’s readership. Check out the article in this week’s issue of The Monitor and see if you agree.
“Whew, I survived the puppet encounter,” I thought when I finally hit the “send” button on the emailed story. Mission accomplished; even at the ripe old age of 50, it looks as if I can overcome decades-old prejudices with His help. But then I received a return email from my new editor, Mary, which made all those old prejudices and fears bubble up stronger than ever:
“Wait until you see the puppet page!” she wrote. She mentioned our talented graphic artist had designed the lay-out, but an arbiter higher on the newspaper’s masthead had decreed where my name should be typed. “[Associate Publisher] Rayanne made the suggestion for by-line placement,” Mary concluded. I’m afraid I can guess where it is….