It is never a good idea to write about a beloved icon, especially after he dies. It is particularly risky when said icon represents all that is good about the place you live, as a transplant. But bear with me here and I promise to tread lightly. Andy Griffith, or more accurately Sheriff Andy Taylor is a legend, a representative of good clean living, where right and wrong stood clearly on opposit sides of an invisible line. For those of us watching reruns in the turmoil of the 70s, where latch key kids and divorce and free love were being played out in real life, he was an ambassador of morality where things were literally spelled out in black and white.
But going back to the real person, Andy Griffith, it appears much more complicated. Born on the wrong side of the tracks and considered “white trash,” show business was a a way out of town and a destiny which looked less than promising. Perhaps that is why the Sheriff in the show seemed so patient with the wrong doers. While right always prevailed, it seemed to pain Sheriff Taylor to have to punish the culprits who had made poor decision in the 27 minute episodes. It was as if he was saving the bad guys from themselves. And so to did the show save Andy Griffith from himself. When the show left the air, the good appeared to get pushed to the back burner. The human Andy Griffith divorced two times and lost an adult son to drug abuse. It was easier to parent Opie on film where the script was clearly written. How many times as a parent have I longed for clearly written words to spell out a solution to my daughters complaints and issues? But like most Hollywood endings, Griffith got it together, revived his soul and career with Matlock (a show I have never seen) and passed away a legend with strong religious faith, happily married to his third wife. Those of us longing for our own Mayberry here on earth are sure he entered the pearly gates whistling his theme song to Saint Peter.
Information about another public persona was also revealed this past week. Anderson Cooper admitted to Andrew Sullivan -and the world- he is gay. Cooper claims he has never denied or publicly discussed his orientation because as a celebrity and journalist he wanted to keep his private life, private. And while it shouldn’t matter or surprise anyone that the the best looking news anchor who is the younger son of the writer Wyatt Emory Cooper and the artist, designer, heiress Gloria Vanderbilt is gay, the information is somehow newsworthy. For someone who has a made a career of uncovering the truth, this does not seem like such a leap. Perhaps he was fearful we would tie Anderson the person to Cooper the reporter? Maybe. As a culture we are obsessed with celebrities, thinking we are one big break or stunt away from being the next star. One only has to watch half an episode of The Kardashians or Jersey Shore to realize no talent -except for showing the world how much air is between your ears- is required. Maybe Anderson Cooper was worried we would become so obsessed with his life, we would no longer pay attention to his work. Valid concern.
It seems we choose what we want to know. The Pa of Andy Griffith Show was always patient but firm; does it matter the off air Griffith was less stellar as a Dad? Anderson Cooper’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina revealed the gripping details of the suffering of NOLA citizens; who cares who he sleeps with? Maybe it matters to some. But what if we used a filter not to judge but to take everyone at their best? What if we suspend disbelief long enough to imagine the scripted sherriff could be the real Andy Griffith? I think God does this for us each day. It’s called grace. He knows we are broken sinners making the same mistakes. But somehow we are given the chance to try again, with a little more patience, more humility. More knowledge. Through God’s unconditional love, we are given the grace to become who God sees us as-perfect in the image. So as you walk about whistling the catchiest of all theme songs, remember the ideal Mayberry may be Mt. Airy, NC but it’s our choice to live it.