Mary Poppins. So “practically perfect in every way”. Don’t you wish you could be like that? Isn’t it painful when we don’t measure up to that level of flawlessness?
It eats us up that we aren’t Mary Poppins. Able to change the world with a song. Without a hint of difficulty, being a good people, never getting upset but also never being pushed around. Being so perfect.
But there’s more to the story. There’s a side to Mary Poppins that we don’t see for much of the movie.
It’s only at the end of the movie that we are exposed to that side. The side that shows her all alone, after the kids have forgotten about her and moved onto loving their mother and father. When that ridiculous parrot umbrella talks to her and says, “You know, they think more of their father than they do of you.” And although Mary Poppins replies, “That’s as it should be,” we see a hint of regret on her face. Of genuine sadness. And of course, the parrot has no problem pointing this out.
Mary Poppins – as much as she may be a feminist, a world-changer, a paragon of perfection – she’s not like us. And she’s not meant to be. She is like an angel, meant to come down to this world from the heavens but then return as soon as her job is completed.
Many of us, we may mistakenly think that the movie is about Mary Poppins. Just like when we read the “Five Books of Moses” we may think the books are about Moses. But the truth is that in both cases, as in our own lives, the story is not about the perfect people (tzadikim, as the Jews call them) but about us. The imperfect ones.
Who are the real heroes in the movie? They are the children. Mr. and Mrs. Banks. Bert. The people with faults who, in the end, are human. Of this world.
How does Mary Poppins change the world? She needs to use her divine powers. She needs magic. With songs, she can make children fall asleep, convince a stern father to take his children for an outing. Turn smoke into stairs. Take people into chalk drawings.
But who is it that really helps Mr. Banks bring out his latent love for his children? It’s Bert, when he speaks to Mr. Banks alone. Who really set free Mr. Banks from his prison? It’s his children, when they give him the tuppence. Who is it that really sets the entire family free? Mr. Banks, when he makes the kite.
It is the people down on the ground, with the kite in their hands, that are the true heroes. The ones shaking things up. Mary Poppins is just the catalyst.
Mary Poppins solely exists for others. Her perfection is necessary. It helps guide us. A light in a dark world. But it’s only necessary because we haven’t realized what’s hidden within the darkness.
That it is we who are the truly perfect ones.