57. Thank You Charlie Brown

THANK YOU CHARLIE BROWN

It’s perhaps one of my earliest memories of reading the Sunday newspaper.  Like most kids I quickly discarded the “news” and went right for the brightly colored pages of the comics.  Even today the comics are often the first section I read.  There I find the adventures of that crazy cat Garfield, the mischievous kids of Family Circus, the misadventures of Dagwood Bumstead in Blondie, the self-serving monarch in the Wizard of Id, and the grumpy grandpa in Pickles.  But my favorite comic strip experience has always been following the drama train that accompanies good old Charlie Brown in Peanuts.

Charles Schulz first created the lovable cast of Peanuts in 1950, five years before I was even born.  Many of the characters featured in the strip were inspired by real people or events in Schulz’ life.  Even Snoopy was based on the black and white dog named Spike that Schulz owned as a teenager.  Though his creation was originally named “Lil’ Folks”, when Charles Schulz sold the strip to United Features they changed the name to “Peanuts”, perhaps after the “Peanut Gallery” where an audience of kids sat during the live broadcast of  “The Howdy Dowdy Show”.  Even after Peanuts became hugely successful, Schulz said he never liked the name and wanted to call the strip “Good Old Charlie Brown”.

If you’re even a casual reader of Peanuts, or if you have seen any of the Charlie Brown specials on TV, you are probably familiar with the cast of characters.  Charlie Brown is surrounded by a group of energetic youngsters that both support and frustrate him.  There is Lucy, his sometimes psychiatrist, tormentor and the bossy older sister of Linus, Charlie’s blanket-toting best friend.  There’s Pig-Pen, the self-acclaimed dust magnet, Schroeder the piano-playing prodigy who is Lucy’s unrequited love, and Sally Brown, Charlie’s little sister who complains, overreacts, and overanalyzes everything. And, of course, we can’t forget Woodstock, the tiny little yellow bird that always seems to bring a bit of common sense to Snoopy’s adventures, the never seen little red haired girl Charlie Brown had a crush on, or Peppermint Patty, who always called Charlie Brown “Chuck”.  Other minor characters included Shermy, Frieda, Violet, Marcie and Franklin, and a host of others.

What I love most about Charlie Brown is how he always seems to be able to roll with the punches.  Whether it’s Lucy pulling the football away at the last second when he’s trying to kick it, his baseball team letting him down once again, or another rejection from the little red haired girl, Charlie Brown takes the blow and rebounds well. Pig Pen may create a mess, Snoopy may go on a hunger strike, or Sally may be driving him up a wall, but Charlie will take a time out, have a conversation with himself, and get ready to face the next situation.  He has an impressive ability to handle disappointment, stress, and even betrayal. Besides a few “Arghhs”, he doesn’t give in or give up no matter what life throws his way.  That’s why he is “good old Charlie Brown”. His ability to come back to the positive after all the negatives he faces has always been an inspiration to the readers of Peanuts…..including me!

I had the privilege of living in Santa Rosa, California for 8 years from 1984-1992.  When I graduated from seminary I was sent to plant a new church in this thriving community. Though I didn’t know it when I chose Santa Rosa as the destination for this new church plant, upon arrival it did not take long to realize that the town’s most famous citizen was Charles Schulz. One of the biggest tourist attractions in town was Snoopy’s Home Ice and the Charles Schulz Museum.  Schulz’s art studio was next door to the ice arena and his home was just down the street.  On many afternoons Schulz would actually walk to the Warm Puppy Café in the ice arena for lunch and mingle with fans of his beloved Peanuts family. I actually got to meet him myself once while I was having lunch with someone at that café…..one of the thrills of my life!  He seemed to be a very humble man, almost surprised by the level of his own success.

I’ve often wondered if Charlie Brown wasn’t actually a reflection on Charles Schulz’ own outlook on life.  He was the only child of German immigrants.  His father, Carl, was a barber and his mother, Dena, was a waitress. He grew up for the most part in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the post Great Depression era, just as my own father did.  Many of the antics displayed by the characters in Peanuts are memories of Schulz’ early life in Minnesota – football games in the yard,  playing baseball with his friends, or just creating their own adventures in the neighborhood.  It was a simple life, and one that held fond memories for Schulz.  Even the Little Red-Haired Girl, the never-seen source of Charlie Brown’s romantic anguish, was drawn from an old girlfriend who had spurned Schulz’s marriage proposal.

Like me, millions of readers have been drawn to the oft-maligned Charlie Brown, the guy who always strikes out and gets his kite stuck in a tree; to bossy Lucy, and her security blanket-toting little brother, Linus; to the Beethoven-loving Schroeder, his head always buried in his toy piano; and to Snoopy, the pet who sleeps atop his doghouse and engages in imaginative midair battles with the Red Baron.  They are simple reflections of the innocence of childhood and the creativity of young minds. They had fun, or made their own fun, wherever they were. They didn’t have all the toys and gadgets we have today, but somehow they made the best out of what they had. And no one was better at adapting to that than Charlie Brown.

Charlie Brown could teach us all a thing or two about seeing the best in people.  The world needs more of that today.  He believe others were good and acted on that belief.  He would keep trying to kick that football no matter how many times Lucy had pulled it away in the past.  He was determined to keep pitching the baseball to the other team even when his fielders seem less than attentive to what was going on in the game.  He put up with the antics of his neurotic dog even though Snoopy was exasperating at times.  No matter what was happening around him, he stayed fairly positive and looked for the silver lining in virtually every situation. That’s an admirable quality we’d all do well to emulate.

The fact is, people who surround us every day are not always easy to deal with.  They can do some things that will downright curl your toes!  They can be rude, self-centered, and misguided. They may create a mess that we’ll have to clean up, complicate our relationships with others, and cause us any number of unwelcomed problems. How we respond to such inconveniences will tell us a lot about our own personality and our own outlook on life, let alone the depth of our personal faith in God.

Charlie Brown wasn’t perfect and he certainly got frustrated at times.  But he never took out his frustration on others.  He somehow had learned to channel that anxiety into something positive.  Those negative experiences didn’t dissuade him from attempting something again.  He’d keep trying to fly that kite or hit the baseball no matter how many times he failed.  He’d keep talking to Lucy no matter how much she belittled him with her sarcasm.  He wasn’t a glutton for punishment, but he also wasn’t a quitter.  He was a faithful friend who maintained an optimistic outlook on life despite all evidence to the contrary.  You just can’t help but admire a guy like that. He’s good old Charlie Brown!!

My life has been pretty crazy the past few months……and yours probably has been too!  For me it’s a few old sports related injuries, the unwelcomed arrival of a signature birthday, and concerns for my family, my work and my future.  Add to that the pandemic that’s facing us all as I write, the racial tensions in our country, and the uncertainty of our national economy and it’s no surprise that so many folks around us are stressed out and somewhat panic driven.  Life has definitely gotten pretty complicated!

That’s why I find myself admiring Charlie Brown.  I think he would probably be taking all of this much more in stride than I am. His approach wouldn’t necessarily solve any of the problems facing me, or you for that matter. But perhaps there’s something to be said about just letting  out a collective “Arrgh” and then moving on with your life as best as you can.  I don’t know if that’s all that Charles Schulz was trying to communicate through his comic strip, but when you stop to think about it that’s not a bad message for the season we’re living through right now.

So, what else can I say  –  “Arrgh!!!”

Thanks Charlie Brown……I think I needed that reminder!