Put Down the Ducky!

There’s a classic Sesame Street skit where Ernie wants to play the sax with cool-dude Mr. Hoots in a jazz band. But he’s clutching his rubber ducky, for security I suppose, and whenever he joins the jamming the duck quacks get in the way. As the drummer flings his hair and cameos parade through, the owl wisely sings, “You gotta put down the ducky if you wanna play the saxophone!”

Obvious, right? As a parent I’ve come to appreciate PBS’s insights into child psychology, and this is one of its best. I can’t tell you how often I ask my ten-year-old to “Put down the ducky.” She tries to eat while clutching her stuffed cat. She holds a book in one hand and picks up Legos, inefficiently, with the other. She gets her backpack and then tries to squirm into her coat.

I suppose children are developmentally unable to prioritize their actions; sooner or later, putting the coat on first will become intuitive. Still, I can’t seem to get that jazzy refrain out of my mind. Ernie, wearing his famous stripes, holds that rubber ducky so tightly because, as he says, “I really love my ducky and I can’t bear to part with him.” He wants the comfort, familiarity, and companionship ducky brings and he wants to join the music-making. So he’s faced with a dilemma: Clutch what he loves and never fully participate, or let it go in favor of an untested activity that seems pretty great. The band bounces and jives around him. Ernie’s stuck.

This morning during my meditation, I finally realized why this PBS ditty has become an earworm. I love my thinking mind. I have awesome thoughts; they keep me responsible, help me earn a living, form my sense of identity, entertain me. I’m scared to put them down. Now that I see this, I recognize the pattern everywhere. My house is just north of a municipal golf course that these days, with our changing climate, regularly floods, and the golfers are having a terrible time putting down the ducky. My church has four stunning tapestries that women lovingly stitched over decades but which portray images deeply hurtful to Native Americans and people of color; the congregation is in crisis over putting down the ducky. Our country is polarized because we’re all squeezing our duckies; the quacking is deafening. Fossil fuels are one big petroleum-product ducky.

Ernie’s turning point comes after Mr. Hoots says, “You don’t have to lose your duck! You can pick it up when you’re finished.”

Ernie, amazed, flings ducky over his shoulder.

Would it were so easy for us grown-ups! In meditation, I practice releasing my grip on something I love for the sake of something I don’t yet know or trust—silence, rest, peace. I pray this exercises my capacity to welcome new loves, because I really need this ability in the real world where my attachments are so hard to relinquish. Especially when I don’t even know I’m attached.

After the song ends, Ernie retrieves his pal: “Oh, ducky, I missed you so much!” What the reunion doesn’t show is Ernie’s internal transformation from which there’s no turning back. Now he also knows the delight of making music. He also knows he can thrive without his security object, and this is both slightly sad and pretty wonderful.   –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

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