“Don’t believe everything you hear and only half of what you see.”
Buttons the Clown.
Buttons—played by Jimmy Stewart in The Greatest Show on Earth—was a clown with a secret. The tip-off was that he never removed his make-up. That’s right, he wore it 24/7. Perhaps he was hoping it would be viewed as a mild eccentricity. Instead it just made people curious. As it turns out, Buttons was actually a doctor on the run for euthanizing his critically ill wife. With FBI Special Agent Gregory closing in, Buttons might have made a clean getaway but conscience prevailed when his medical skills were needed to help a seriously injured victim of a train wreck. Looking on, Gregory realizes the clown’s true identity and slaps on the cuffs after the necessary triage was complete. The chase over, Gregory admiringly acknowledges that Buttons, “is all right.” From Ringling Bros. clown to the ten most wanted list—Buttons wasn’t kidding when he said we shouldn’t believe what we hear and see!
The story of Buttons is fictional, but examples of the adage, “what you see is never what you get,” are found in real life too. Recently, South African Park Ranger Estiaan Houy spent an hour filming a baby impala befriend and play with a leopard. The amazing encounter immediately had folks thinking of the biblical prophecy in which, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid….” The video represented a world at peace and people around the world felt good about it. But it didn’t take long for the experts to clarify things. It seems leopards like to toy with their prey and the big cat was most likely just waiting for mama impala to show up. They suspected the baby ended up as an appetizer after the two walked into the bush.
If you were feeling badly for the baby impala, news from the Vatican probably cheered you up. Emblazoned across the front page of The New York Times was the news that Pope Francis determined pets go to heaven. Evidently, he was comforting a boy whose dog had died and said, “Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” This was good news for the kid and for pet and animal lovers everywhere—until the Times issued a retraction. Seems Francis never said it, but Pope Paul VI did. The public issued a huge sigh of relief. But the Times couldn’t leave well enough alone and quoted John Paul II saying animals do have souls and are “as near to God as men are.” Further examination pegged this as a mistranslation and the Pope seems to have been arguing the opposite point. More recently, Pope Benedict made it clear that paradise isn’t for pets. Even Francis seems skeptical and questions why we spend so much on pets when people go hungry. A feel-good story about Fido turned out to be a theological conundrum baffling even the most astute among us.
The problem with living in a world where we can’t believe much of what we see and hear is that we still want to believe. We want Buttons to really be “all right,” baby impalas to live in peace with carnivorous cats and our departed pets to run free through Elysian fields. And so we hope. Hope is a powerful engine of daily living. It keeps us moving toward a vision of what life can be and wards off despair when things go wrong. Most of all, it keeps us centered and makes realizing our dreams a distinct possibility. Hope alone won’t make it happen, but it gets us started. So here’s to a redeemed Buttons, a peaceable animal kingdom and a heavenly future for Fido. Anything’s possible! —Ebert