Monday, January 20, 2014

Feed the Birds

There's a popular movie out right now called "Saving Mr. Banks." It's about the making of the Mary Poppins film with Julie Andrews. I don't tend to go see movies very often in the theater because I have a VERY short attention span for such things. Most of my friends won't go see any movies with me anyway because they don't like feeling as though they need to kill someone they care about for two hours.

But I was excited to go see this movie because it looked interesting. And because I remember seeing Mary Poppins as a child and I really liked it. Before going to see the movie, I thought it would be good to refresh my memory on the story of Mary Poppins, so I did that, watching the Disney classic a few days before heading out to see Saving Mr. Banks.

I had an experience watching Mary Poppins that I've had with a lot of movies that I saw as a child and then re-watched as an adult. I found out that my interpretation of the story was completely different as an adult than it was as a child. And I found myself blown away that there was so much meaning in something that I never really understood as a kid.

My memory of the story of Mary Poppins as a child was that a magical nanny came to town and had a number of shenanigans with a couple of children.

When I saw the movie again recently I noticed a different story. I watched a family that was falling apart because all of the people in it were falling apart. I saw a nanny step in and figure out a way to get each of them to see something about themselves and each other that could lead them towards healing.

My sister Krishelle and I used to make fun of the "Feed the Birds" song in the movie, frequently singing it at the top of our lungs and in excessive vibrato. But by the time this segment came around in the movie as I watched it a few weeks ago, there was nothing funny about it to me.

A quick refresher in case you haven't seen it in a while: Mary Poppins and the children get home after a day of experiences that are only possible in the real world if you're tripped up on acid. The dad has a talking to Mary Poppins and he's like, "ever since you came into our lives, I feel like I live at the zoo. You're a freaking mess, Mary Poppins. A freaking mess."

Mary Poppins kindly manipulates him and is like, "oh my gosh. You are so right! The children need to learn discipline. That's a great idea. You SHOULD totally take them on an outing to the bank (where you work) tomorrow! I'll go tell them now!"

And the dad is all, "uh . . . ok."

So then Mary Poppins goes up to the nursery and she's all, "guess what kids?! You're going to work with your dad tomorrow!"

And the kids are all, "is this a freaking joke? Our dad hates us. He never wants to spend time with us."

And Mary Poppins is like, "no. For reals. You're going on an outing with your dad and you're going to like it."

And the kids are all, "this could not have been his idea. Our dad doesn't care about us enough to want to take us anywhere. But at least he can show us the sights of the city!"

And that's when Mary Poppins says one of the most brilliant things she could have said: "well, most things he can. But sometimes a person we love through no fault of his own, can't see past the end of his nose."

And the kids are like, "Mary Poppins? What the hell does that mean? Are you still tripping acid?"

And that's when Mary Poppins goes into this beautiful allegory about a little old woman who sits on the church steps all day with bags of bird food for sale and she pleads with passersby to give a little of themselves--to see past the end of their noses--and do something kind for a creature in need. She pleads with them to feed the birds.

The next day when the kids go to the bank and see the feed-the-birds woman outside, they're all like, "oh my gosh! It's that woman! We have some money! Let's feed the birds!" And the dad is like, "hell no. That woman has bird crap all over her."

They go into the bank and the oldest and scariest human being who has ever lived tries to get the kids to give him the money they wanted to use to feed the birds so that he can "invest it in the, to be specific in the bank."

There's a struggle. Things are said. Feelings are hurt. Ultimately the kids break away and run down the scary streets of London by themselves until they bump into Bert, who looks horrifying because apparently he's a chimney sweep in addition to his other 5,000 jobs.

The kids tell Bert that they're scared and that their dad hates them and they don't know what to do. And Bert tells the kids that they're dead wrong. That their dad doesn't hate them and that they should try to imagine how scary life must be from their father's perspective. Bert explains that their dad has nobody to turn to when things get scary and that he has to find a way to make life work for the family in this cold and lonely world.

You know how it all ends. The kids feel sorry for not trying to understand their dad. Dad feels sorry for not trying to understand his kids. Everyone sees beyond the end of their noses. Everyone wants to "feed the birds." Dad fixes the children's kite. The whole family skips away to fly it together. And Mary Poppins is left alone as her talking cane is like, "you have a thankless job Mary Poppins. Those people have already forgotten about you."

And Mary Poppins says, "things are as they should be." And the movie ends.

I sat on the edge of the couch and I was completely blown away.

This children's musical from a thousand years ago just explained so much to me about life and why people are the way they are and why I sometimes feel the way I feel.

I thought about the message of the story particularly in the context of seeing past the end of your nose enough to feed the birds. And I thought about what that means, on a practical level.

Guys, Mary Poppins didn't lie to us when she said, or at least implied, that the world is a better place for us and for everyone else when we do a better job at this. When we do a better job at stepping outside of ourselves and imagining things from a different perspective. From a perspective that doesn't grow within us organically because it's positioned only by a set of trials and experiences that we are fortunate to not have to face ourselves.

I know I've been guilty in my life from time to time of failing to see past the end of my nose. I've been guilty of judging or scoffing at another person's inadequacies or choices that are the product of a set of circumstances through which I've never had to view my own life. And in so doing, I have missed opportunities to feed the birds when the birds so badly needed to be fed by someone. I missed opportunities to embrace and love instead of carry on maliciously or apathetically.

There's this constant fight going on about what "tolerance" means and how it somehow only extends far enough to be a matter of word and not deed. And some really seem to believe that "tolerance" is nothing more than proclaiming to love another even though they believe differently than you. And that it can't mean that we also have to stop fighting in ways that make the people's lives for which we have "toleration" a living hell.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote here on what I think about how we treat gay people. And a bunch of folks commented, many citing their religious beliefs to substantiate their opinions. And I thought that was great. But in so doing, some preached what I have always found to be a very odd concept and one that when usually applied is totally inconsistent with the rest of the religious beliefs the same people claim to hold. That is the idea of "love the sinner, hate the sin."

I understand the sentiment. That we should separate our feelings about a person from their actions. And we should love them no matter what they do. But as I understand my relationship with God and my own religious beliefs, it has never been my responsibility to hate other people's "sins." My own, sure. But not other people's.

It is only my responsibility to understand my own misdeeds, and to work with God to move away from them so that I can become a better person. One who is more fulfilled. One who is better able to have a perspective that makes the rest of my life and my purpose make sense.

It is certainly my responsibility to love others. To see past myself. And to show kindness to all. I can hate the effects of another person's choices on me. But it is none of my business to hate what I perceive to be their "sins." Because I have no idea what hand of cards they are holding. I have no idea what is the absolute most perfect set of decisions for their life.

And you know what's great? I don't need to know that. And I don't need to pretend to. All I need to do is lift the hand that hangs down and strengthen the feeble knees. All I need is to have enough charity to see past the end of my nose and enough character to care about what I see.

All I need to do is feed the birds.

~It Just Gets Stranger

50 comments:

  1. Luke 18:13 - "But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'

    I always liked this particular translation of the verse because he says, "the sinner"... not "a" sinner - chief in my own eyes, I am the sinner...

    I know for a fact, should the Father ever judge me the way I judge others, I'm in deep doo-doo - that doesn't make me stop judging others, it's part and parcel of how He made us - imperfect and completely human - but please let me do better today than yesterday -

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    1. Very truthful and a great way of looking at it. We all judge, in one way or another and sometimes without ever realizing we are. It is how He made us. And He loves us for our imperfections.

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  2. This post is brilliant. Just, brilliant. I wish I had the eloquent words to verbalize how amazing this post is, and how profoundly it just effected me. But I can't think of any that will tell you how it made me think and made me feel. I don't think, Eli, that you have any real clue, as to the good you do with your posts, and the good you cause because of them, be it to make people smile, or make people think. All over the world. You are amazing... thank you so much!

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  3. And? How did you feel about "Saving Mr. Banks"?

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  4. Awesome summary of Mary Poppins! Love the translation. I have to say this is probably one of my favorite posts that you've done. I started out thinking it was hilarious and wanting to share it for that reason, but I ended up wanting to share it for the message. If I were a teacher and you were in my writing class, this would be an A+ all the way! Beautifully done.

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  5. That is just about the best re-interpretation of "love the sinner, hate the sin" that I've heard. Thanks for that.

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  6. We each need a 'Mary Poppins' for our families. And to be one for others.

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  7. Eli, this is one of the best pieces of writing I have ever seen. Thank you so much for this. You have no idea how much I needed to see this post today.

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  8. When I think no one will ever "get it"...you come along.

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  9. Saving Mr. Banks made me see Mary Poppins in a completely different light. Have you watched Mary since seeing Savings? Did it change your perspective at all?

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    1. You know, Saving Mr. Banks validated my new perspective, although the film was of course focused much more on the father. I am very interested to see Mary Poppins again after learning that background (no idea how historically accurate Saving Mr. Banks is, but it will be interesting nonetheless).

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    2. I saw an interview with Emma Thompson who played P.L. Travers and she said they took the actual tapes from the meetings to help write the script. I absolutely loved Saving Mr. Banks and told anyone who would listen to me (which is not many honestly) that they should see it.

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    3. I'm also disgusted that it wasn't nominated for any Academy Awards. Although this fact just further cemented my opinion of the Academy.

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  10. What a lovely piece of writing. When my husband was a kid, he was filled with lots of spiritual questions, and he used to torture the priest at his church with tons of existential-angst-type questions. The priest, who my husband describes as a seen-it-all New York Irishman, looked at my husband and said, "I can summarize all of the gospels for you in one sentence. They basically say, 'Jesus says, 'Don't be a jerk.'" That has stayed with him, and when he told me this story, it stayed with me, too. Sometimes it really IS that simple-- and that hard to do.

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  11. Loved this and I'm not religious at all.

    bisous
    Suzanne

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  12. Did you know that "the oldest and scariest human being who has ever lived" was also played by Dick Van Dyke in the movie? Blew my mind the first time I realized that :)

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    1. Cool, I didn't know that! Thanks for the info :)

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  13. Dude... You always seem to hit the nail squarely on the head! Methinks you may bee the "Mary Poppins of the Blogosphere" for your uncanny ability to help others see things in a different light with such clarity and you even manage to do it in a fun way! THANK YOU!

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  14. Wonderful. Simply wonderful. I shared your post from the 5th on Facebook and of course my very right winged Christian family had a heyday (most likely because they like to argue with me about Christian values since I'm atheist, but that's a whole other box of issues). They could not get past the "gay" thing to see that the post was mute about showing love to everyone no matter where you stand on how they live our who they are. So I thank you for this post because it is not our job to judge but it is to love. I just wish I could have out these thoughts down as elegantly as you have done.

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  15. Eli, I LOVE your posts. You make me laugh, you make me think, and in posts like this, I find myself nodding along, thinking, "Oh my goodness, SOMEONE ELSE feels the EXACT same way about this topic!!" I hear a lot of, "Love the sinner, hate the sin." I hate, loathe, and despise that phrase...for many reasons.

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  16. My favorite part of Saving Mr. Banks is when she tries to say that Dick Van Dyke is not a classic. Ummmm, HELLO, who doesn't love Dick Van Dyke? haha. But the movie had so many ups and downs I was never sure how to feel during the movie. I was a crazy bag of weird emotions. haha.

    As a note...Mary Poppins had a talking umbrella, not a talking cane. :)

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    1. Ah. My foolish mistake. Of course it was an umbrella. How else could she have flown away?

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  17. Wonderful piece Eli. Very eloquently written in a way that impacts all of us.

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  18. Interesting fact: Since the release of Mary Poppins years ago, London had to pass a law forbidding people (like Poppins-fan tourists) to feed the birds in that area... because the church was becoming damaged by all of the birdy-poo. :) True story!

    On another note, I read your gay-marriage post the other day and meant to leave a comment, but felt like there were already so many voices in the room that mine wouldn't much matter. I won't continue that discussion here, but wanted you to know this next bit nonetheless:

    Frankly, when I saw the heading to your gay-people-getting-married post, I was afraid "stranger" as I knew it would be lost forever. I mean, sure, you offer us thought provoking material on occasion-- but it's generally vague. Mostly, this is the blog I come read about poop, or awkwardly-naked Eli, or cats. Politics, and this particularly present issue in that arena, stirs people up and makes them say... well, a lot... and I didn't want that to ruin something good! HOWEVER. I was surprised (and touched) that you so eloquently made the point you did. THIS post now, is an excellent follow up, and succinctly verbalizes some of my feelings on the matter. "Jesus said love everyone, treat them kindly too." -- We practice the same faith, and it's really nice to know there are some with a loud enough voice to help others realize we're not as closed minded as they think.

    Thanks for providing the blog I come too for poop and poignancy. And keep it coming!
    -Marilyn

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    1. Marilyn, I just got a text from Jolyn that says, "If you ever think of changing the blog's name, you should definitely go with Poop and Poignancy."

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    2. Haha. I'd definitely still read, but then what would you call us fan-folk, if not "strangers"? Certainly "poopers" is less charming... Glad Jolyn approves! -Marilyn

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    3. I disagree. "Poopers" would be a perfect name!

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  19. I think I was the only one that actually said "love the sinner, hate the sin" in a comment on the previous post. I used it in an almost dismissive way, as a cultural shortcut that would invoke the notion that many other comments were arriving at. I had no idea that people had such negative feelings about the phrase, and I didn't mean to ruffle anyone's feathers. I want to explain why I think the concept is still a sound one:
    First of all, I recognize that it is not scriptural. I, for one, totally hate the "I never said it would be easy" quote, because of its non-scriptural use of the first-person pronoun to put words into the Lord's mouth. The same reason I don't like singing hymn #185 "Reverently and Meekly Now" which does the same thing. However, the phrase in question seems more like a good rule of thumb, not necessarily intended to be a quote or scriptural injunction, but more of a general summary of several different teachings rolled into one easy-to-remember phrase.
    Love the sinner is the most important part of the phrase, which is why it comes first. For emphasis. Using the word sinner is not an excuse for assuming a "holier than thou" attitude. Are we not all sinners? I can see that using that word comes across as judgmental, but I try to keep that question from Paul in close association with any use of the word "sinner," so that I am reminded that I am not without sin myself.
    Hate the sin. I like what you said about focusing principally on hating your own sin. That is our primary responsibility - to cast out the beam in our own eye. But I also hold with what I believe is advocated by the phrase at hand and by scriptural references: that we also hate sin in general, as a concept. I think of a scripture in Isaiah 5 that says "wo unto them that put light for darkness and darkness for light." We must discern between good and evil, between right and wrong, between righteousness and wickedness. We have a duty to do this in order to keep ourselves out of trouble, and also to help those we love, care about, and have stewardship over to do the same. Hating sin means recognizing it and guarding against it, the way you might hate the morning glory that pop up in your garden--let it grow and it will choke out whatever else you have growing there. That's why I think we can't dismiss the "hate the sin" part of the phrase.
    But it's just like you said, too often we are tripped up in the application, focusing too much on hating sin. We forget that loving the individual should take precedence over anything else, and that love needs to be abundantly clear from our actions. We can't confuse a person with their behavior, but we have to see past behavior to the person and show them we love them. Does that mean we should throw up our hands and say "whatever anyone does is okay with me"? I don't think so. Neither does it give us license to be even a little bit hateful towards people who we perceive as having embraced what we consider to be a sinful life. But I don't think it is impossible to truly love a person while hating their sinful actions.
    Maybe the phrase doesn't belong at all in this discussion because of what another comment said -- that experiencing homosexual feelings itself is not a sin, and all too often we don't draw that distinction. And I am not trying to detract from anything you said in your post, because I feel like what you have written is wonderful. It's just that I felt like I was being called out a little bit here and wanted to answer for myself.

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    1. Thanks for this Brian. And I was referring generally to the mentality of hating other people's sins that pervaded many of the comments that didn't use that phrase specifically, but were consistent with the unhelpful application I wrote about above. (I also received MANY emails from people lecturing me about hating the "sin"). I understand your point. I think to some degree sin is relative. We have to believe that if we accept that we are all judged according to our own circumstances. What might be wrong for one person may be right for another. We see this in application at the margins. Certainly I can accept that cold-blooded murder and child abuse are wrong for everyone. But sometimes it's very unhelpful to attack lifestyle choices that allow people to live fulfilling lives without hurting those around them. Because we don't always know what choices exactly are right for every single person. It's our obligation to work on our own actions and find out what is right for us, and then show love and support for those around us who are trying to do the same. If what I said is true, "hate the sin" can become a really misguided pursuit.

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    2. Thanks for this insightful response. And let me apologize for my long-windedness -- I have a problem with that. I agree 100% that there are scenarios in which what is generally wrong might be the right thing in individual cases. Which is why your point about focusing on personal responsibility and love towards others is probably the best practical advice there is, especially in this case.

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  20. This is probably my favorite of all your posts. And that's saying something, Eli, because I love your blog.

    I get a bit antsy when it comes to revisiting movies I loved as a child and haven't seen since the days of my youth; a lot of times, they fall short of their former glory. Or else, I catch the sexual innuendos I never understood as a wee lass. But Mary Poppins is classy stuff.

    I read somewhere on the internets that the historical accuracy of Saving Mr. Banks wasn't super accurate--that Mrs. Travers was a generous woman, and that Disney destroyed the original Mary Poppins stories, blah, blah, blah. I still thought that Mr. Banks was an incredible movie (that made me cry on a handful of occasions), and I think the Mary Poppins Disney created is outright fantastic. It teaches us a lot of good things, "in a most delightful way," with fantastic music to boot. I'd love to read the original Mary Poppins stories, though.

    Umm...I think I had a point to pull of my thoughts together here in the end, but it's gone now, so I'll just end as I started: thanks for the post!

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  21. A-freakin-men kiddo. Your first post was inspired and this one is equally beautiful. Everyone is carrying burdens, demons, and heartaches. We are all our own harshest critics. So it behooves everyone to stop and remember that before adding to someone else's personal pain. To reference another Disney movie "Mama says if you can't say nuthin nice, don't say nuthin at all." It isn't our place to make someone else feel miserable even if you believe you have the moral high ground. Lift up, don't push down.

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  22. Eli, if you decide you need a GBF (gay best friend), let me know. :)

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  23. No. For reals, I think you need to do movie summaries more often.

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    1. The motion has passed! More movie reviews, please.

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    2. Here Here!!! Now I have "Feed the Birds" in my head

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  24. Thanks for no Saving Mr. Banks spoilers. I'm so excited to see that soon; the Mary Poppins movie has always been my favorite Disney film. No flopsy princesses—a peacemaking nanny that saves the day, or, the family. There are so many great lines in the songs and dialogue in that movie. I love the spoonful of sugar concept: take life's medicine with a little optimism. Have a healthy helping every day. We all have bitter things we have to swallow in life, like you're saying about everyone dealt with a different hand, and involving a little sugar to sweeten our judgments of others or of ourselves will bring a lot of good energy to the world. It'll stick families and friends together, cuz sugar's sticky... Take jolly holidays, love to laugh, take spoonfuls of sugar, and feed the birds. Thanks for another great post out in the universe, Eli.

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    1. Also, thank you for the PG-13 remake of the original Mary Poppins dialogue. Do this more often.

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  25. Really great interpretation of the movie! That line/song "feed the birds" has been running in my mind for a while now, so perhaps I need to watch it again. I love growing up and watching childhood movies or shows for that reason. Mind-blowing.

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  26. Thank you so much for this. I felt at peace between laughing while reading this post.

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  27. Mary Poppins is one of my favorite musicals and watching Saving Mr. Banks reminded me of why. There is so much depth to the story. It's easy to get distracted by the silly songs and some of the goofy characters, but there is a beautiful message of love underneath. I wish it was a lesson we could all learn and put into action.

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  28. Yes, this is lovely -- thanks for sharing it with me! I haven't seen the Saving Mr. Banks movie yet, but the Broadway musical version of Mary Poppins does develop the whole theme of a broken family coming together again much more than the Disney movie. I need to see if I can find Saving Banks on Netflix now!

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  29. How true these reflections are..I'm writing a term paper for Art History focusing on St. Paul's and am including the lyrics as they are timeless and poignant.

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  30. I became fascinated by this song, but listened to it on a vintage recording by RAY CONNIFF, a very good rendition... knowing it was from Mary Poppins, I found it strange, haunting and extremely sentimental in a good way.

    In the family I grew up in, we would NEVER go see a movie like this. My father worked too much and would never make such an extravagance of going to a movie or spending that kind of time with us. So... I only heard about the film, we sang the songs in elementary school, but I didn't see the movie.

    The song speaks of real life experience. This is deep... it is like EST or going to Esalen for an emotional work shop or something. That is, if you can let go enough and take the time to cry a little or actually say what you are feeling.

    Honestly I am surprised this song made it into the film, because it is the type of song the Hollywood suits would cut... but in this case the one and only guy in a suit was Walt Disney and he liked the song.

    But sometimes a person we love through no fault of his own, can't see past the end of his nose.

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