An Improbable 30 Years

I don’t particularly know why the anniversaries that end in 0 and 5 take on extra significance. I know that I like them because I’m bad at math and they make calculations a little easier for me. But Jim Henson’s death coincided with a moment when I was starting to make the gradual transition from childhood to adulthood, and this anniversary comes at a moment that I’m about to enter a new decade and a new phase in my adult life, so that gives it personal significance for me.

In a general way, I’ve shared my memories of the day that Jim Henson died. I wouldn’t say that I remember it vividly, but I remember it distinctly. We found out from the evening news, which I wasn’t watching at the time, but I was in the living room when it was on. I guess I was so shocked by what I was hearing that I froze in place in the corner of the room. So rather than watching the news story, I listened to it and watched my mom and my sister watching it. I’ve said before that my mom said that she cried about it. I don’t remember her crying, so I don’t know if it happened then or later.

The thing I remember most distinctly is that when the news story was over, I asked if Jim Henson had had any kids, and my sister said, “Yes, and he never played puppets with them.” To this day, I have no idea why she said that, because I know now that it’s not true at all. But what is interesting to me looking back on it now is that the reason I asked that question is because I had a vague idea in my childish mind that if Jim did have kids, maybe one of them could carry on his work, specifically performing Kermit. Even though I didn’t specifically say, “Did he have any kids? Because maybe one of them could go on performing Kermit,” I think my sister understood that that’s what I was getting at. Otherwise why would she have answered in that way?

In other words, even as a child and a young woman living relatively sheltered lives in South Dakota, I and my sister both had an instinctual understanding of the point that Steve makes about the Muppets being a lineage tradition, even if we were thinking of it in narrow terms of genealogical lineage.

There are times when it feels like no time has passed since the day Jim Henson died, and other times when it feels like an entirely other lifetime. There are times when Jim Henson seems like a figure of myth or legend. That’s why, as painful as it was, I am grateful that I was alive at the time of his death because that makes him real to me in a way that he might not have been otherwise.

It’s important to remember and honor those who have died, but I also think that death and the anniversary thereof serve as a reminder to show appreciation for people while they are still around to hear it. I never got the chance to meet Jim Henson, but thinking about his loss makes me all the more grateful that I’ve been able to communicate to Steve, both in person and online, at least some of what is in my heart about why the work he did with Jim, and the work he’s done since, is so important to me.

And if you haven’t read Steve’s tribute yet, please do so. It’s truly beautiful.

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The Full Message

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Meanwhile, I think I should probably call my sister. 

5 thoughts on “An Improbable 30 Years

  1. What I remember most about the day that Jim Henson died, was my confusion and denial because he was still young in my mind, and it seemed so cruel. Then I heard a news broadcaster say, ‘God must have wanted the Muppets in Heaven’. When I saw Steve’s post on Instagram yesterday it was the most difficult post for me to read, for I felt the pain he was feeling and had felt every time this day comes around. How to respond to a man who lived through this with dear Kermit in his closet, waiting to find out if he’d ever see the light again. Steve surly felt all alone and scared, Jim’s friends all mourned this great loss, but for Steve, there was a weight on his shoulders. Then, through many self introspections Steve eventually took the brave steps to pick up Kermit, How does one respond to this? I felt so inadequate. … Several years ago, It was easier to ask questions of Mak Wilson, for he had a much different perspective, as it was he who had to keep another Henson show going on one side of the world, while Brian took care of funeral arrangements on the other. It was surreal for him, but he understand how important it was not to let things fall apart.. He and I spoke of this in great detail and how it was for him. I could not even bear to watch the Funeral video of the puppeteers paying Jim respects, for it broke my heart, and finally a year later after spending time visiting Mak’s blog, I was able to brave it. It was also was during this time, I met online, Steve through Andrew Spooner’s frustration about him being let go from performing Kermit, and Mak’s reaction of sudden memories he shared with me, for he worked so close to Steve, in the past. This is why I was on Muppet Puntid. The rest is history for you know what we went through there.

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  2. I must have been pretty callous young guy at the time because the only thing i remember thinking when i heard the sad news was something pretty dumb, like “oh well there go the Muppets, there can be no Muppets without Jim Henson”. It was only weeks later the full emotional impact started gradually seeping through and I started to realize how unique and precious and easily hurt the whole thing was. By the time of Christmas Carol I was very suspicious and braced myself for disappointment, and then… hey! the Muppets were still the Muppets, and somehow, unbelievably, Kermit was… still the same Kermit i used to know. There was no “i can almost believe it’s Kermit” or “look the voice is getting better” or “that’s actually close to the way he acted back when…”, or any kind of rationalization behind it at all, nor even “the new guy is doing great”. It was just Kermit, same Kermit, who remained in our world after Jim left for the better one. It was same thing with Bill’s Rowlf — it’s just the same Rowlf we know, no thinking twice about it. And it was then that i realized that the new guy IS doing great and the Muppets will go on and stay with us for a while yet, and keep being the Muppets we know, the best tribute to Jim there could be.

    I had absolutely no idea who Steve was at the time, but (-and!-) that that is something i will always be grateful to him for.

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