The Real Hero of NIMH

If I were to ask you to list your favorite films from childhood, could you do it? Not the sit and think about it kind of answer, but an in the moment reply requiring no effort or deliberation. Everyone has those movies that bring them back to a simpler time when they were unburdened with the responsibilities of a grown up world. Given enough time, anyone could name a few titles. But in an instant if I asked you right now?

I could. My collection probably speaks to the era in which I was raised as much as it does my personality. The Goonies. Return of the Jedi. Revenge of the Nerds. Police Academy. The Naked Gun. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Flight of the Navigator. The Neverending Story. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The Karate Kid. Back to the Future. Despite their flaws, I consider them to be perfect movies. If they’re playing on a TV in my vicinity, I will stop to watch. They still hold a special place in my heart as the movies that made me fall in love with the magic of cinema.

There is one more not mentioned above - the only animated movie I would include in this list. It was released in 1982, but I didn’t see it until it was available on video cassette. Pretty sure my parents rented it to watch with me for my fourth birthday. A tale of peril and a bunch of smart rodents: The Secret of NIMH. (side note: my parents were fans of Dom DeLuise, who provided voice talent for the crow in NIHM which may or may not have influenced their decision to rent this movie instead of something like Annie, The Last Unicorn, or E.T.)

image courtesy MGM

In NIMH, a mother’s home is about to be destroyed but her son is too sick to get out of bed so she seeks the help of her deceased husband’s friends. If the characters were all human, I’d watch it. But here, the mom was a field mouse and the friends she sought were rats. The rats gained intelligence through experimentation done at the National Institute of Mental Health. I was always fascinated by that plot point – somehow we could create sentient and intelligent creatures through the power of science. Even as a preschooler, my nerd roots were showing.

The character’s captivated me. Mrs. Brisby, the desperate mom who wanted nothing more than to keep her family safe. Jeremy, the clumsy crow who was looking for love in all the wrong places. Mr. Ages, the elderly and curious tinkerer. The terrifying and wise Great Owl. Jenner, the back stabbing rat with a lust for power. Nicodemus, the selfless and noble leader. And Timmy, the little boy sick with pneumonia; I identified with him the most.

I adored The Secret of NIMH. It wasn’t a bright and cheery Disney animated feature. It was dark, grim, and occasionally haunting. It inspired moments of dread not common in family films. It didn’t avoid the topic of death or sugarcoat it. Instead, it treated life with reverence and honor, something to be preserved at great cost. Murder was viewed as the consequence of greed and envy. It was critical of characters who placed selfish ambitions ahead of the good of the community, a topic still socially relevant 37 years later.

image courtesy MGM

Looking back, this was one of the most important movies of my youth, for reasons I didn’t realize until tonight. My son and I were talking about the movie even though the only scene he clearly remembered was when Mrs. Brisby met the Great Owl. He wanted to know why I loved that movie and I explained my above arguments to him. I had a sudden revelation, so I added one more.

Because the hero was a woman.

Realistically, The Secret of NIMH could have relegated Mrs. Brisby into a damsel in distress. The movie even begins with her as a helpless widow initially helped by her friend, then the Rats of NIMH who would have made excellent heroes. They were bigger, smarter, and stronger possessing knowledge of technological gadgetry and could have adequately resolved the plot by rescuing the Brisby family through scientific wizardry. The first half of the film follows this path. Mrs. Brisby looked for help from those most capable of heroics. Halfway through, the story took a detour; Mrs. Brisby could no longer rely on the rats who were so willing to support her. In order to enact their plans, Dragon (the farmer’s cat) needed to be drugged and Mrs. Brisby was the only rodent small enough to sneak into the farmhouse and spike Dragon’s food. While inside, she was caught and held in a cage.

While trapped by the famer’s kids, Mrs. Brisby overheard human plans to exterminate the rats. So she did what any woman would do: she got to work. Mrs. Brisby escaped the cage and farmhouse through her own strength. She made her own way back to her home where the rats were beginning to work. She warned them of their impending doom even though it wasn’t her responsibility. Then she navigated the infighting among the rats, and fought off an attacker. When the rigging designed to lift her home from the mud failed, Mrs. Brisby continued to fight even when all others had given up hope. She demonstrated courage not possessed by any of the rats. Through the power of determination, it was Mrs. Brisby who saved the day. Sure there was a little magic involved, but it was a magic owned by a woman that no man could control.

image courtesy MGM

When a woman needed help, she turned to the world of men. When the men failed, she rolled up her sleeves and helped herself. This was (and still is) an uncommon children’s story. Kids my age rarely saw feminine heroes like this. Most animated features underuse their heroines as a love interest or a princess in need of rescue. Even when women are the main character, they’re infrequently the hero. The little kid version of me needed to see a woman save the world, even if the lady was a mouse. On the foundation of The Secret of NIMH, I’ve always seen my mom as a woman who would storm the gates of hell if it meant saving me. The real hero of NIMH inspired me to admire the girls who were in my classes and social circles. Today, I still see a little bit of Mrs. Brisby in every woman I meet. And I hope to raise my daughter to be one of those feminine warriors who’s not afraid to be the one to save the day.

I don’t have patience for armchair bandits and keyboard commandos complaining about female driven stories from Captain Marvel to Wonder Woman to The Last Jedi. If these pathetic misogynists are so desperately clinging to the patriarchy they feel the need to campaign against the rise of women in cinema, then I only have one suggestion for them. Perhaps they need take a break from trolling Reddit and the YouTube comments section to devote an hour and twenty minutes to watching The Secret of NIMH. It might do them some good.


After the snap

Last April, comic book movie fans flooded theaters to see their favorite superheroes go to war against Thanos, the mad Titan, and his horde of Outriders. Earth’s mightiest heroes and the Guardians of the Galaxy versus the most powerful villain in the universe. One perused unlimited power and the rest fought to prevent disaster. Then it ended with a snap.

In a single moment, the antagonist won. Victory was his. Thanos wished to eradicate half of all living creatures in the universe. He thought it would bring balance to every planet in every solar system. It was his radical solution for over population and resource scarcity. Once he collected a cosmic set of gems - the infinity stones - he used their magical qualities to manipulate time, space, and reality to achieve his destructive plans. He snapped his fingers and half of all life turned to dust.

The movie ended with death on an unimaginable scale. Marvel fans (at least those unfamiliar with comic book lore) found themselves in tears while watching their favorite characters parish. They left the theater knowing half of the characters in the MCU were dead and gone. The fate of the remaining heroes was grim. They were left facing a dire future. The producers and directors and executives at Marvel Studios planned this cliffhanger ending to linger for a year before fans and audiences have a chance to learn how the few survivors rise to the challenge of saving the universe from the depths of despair.

We go through seasons in our lives like this. Time and time again, it seems like we have things under control. We slay our demons and conquer our foes. We are the heroes of our own narratives. Our greatest villains never rise above our abilities and life goes on with us celebrating victories. Then something happens and our world crashes. There’s a devastating loss and we walk through our world like ghosts. Something dies, turned to dust before our eyes. We feel as if all hope is lost.

If art imitates life (or life imitates art) there’s more to our stories than these long dark nights of the soul. There are valleys but there are also mountains. Where we face defeat, we also have opportunity to start over, to rebuild, to heal, to try again. If we have an Infinity War, we also have an End Game. Success is constructed on a foundation of collapse. The masterminds behind the MCU have a plan for their Avengers to rise again after the pain of failure and grief. That’s good news – especially for me. Lately, I’ve been feeling half dead and I’m ready to fight back to regain all I’ve lost.

In a little over a month, The Avengers return to the big screen to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and bring the fight back to Thanos. They’re eager to finish the war. I don’t know about you, but my son and I are going to be walking into our local cinema like this:

courtesy of Marvel Studios & Disney

Maybe we need to go into life like this too. Not every day though, just when life has us dumped in terrible and unfortunate circumstances. Are you bruised, beaten, in pain, discouraged, lost, overwhelmed, or losing hope? Suit up. Gather your friends. Get ready for battle. And smile as if you know you’re going to kick adversity’s ass. Then fight, because your life is worth fighting for.



Today, Donald Trump did something decent: he visited an area of the country devastated by a recent natural disaster. It is an act any American President should do. When a populace is shaken by great tragedies - whether from a hurricane or a mass shooting, it is normal for people to look to their leaders for hope. In our darkest hour, we want to know that our government hasn’t forgotten us, that they are on our side, and that everything is going to be OK. So Trump went to Alabama to see the havoc caused by tornados and speak with the citizens dealing with the loss of life and property. This is a good thing. It is presidential.

In the middle of these commendable events, Trump’s behavior took a wild detour. He did something I have never seen any other president do. While speaking with storm victims at a church in Opelika, he started autographing bibles.

image courtesy of Carolyn Kaster/AP

This might come as a surprise to some people, but Donald Trump did not write a single chapter or verse of the Bible. He’s not even one of the characters found in those holy pages. If you want a copy autographed by the author, you will need to wait until the afterlife.

Are you as skeptical as me?

Whatever this is, it is not Christianity. You might call it religion but it has nothing to do with Christ. This is not the worship of a humble carpenter from Galilee - it is the glorification of an unrepentant and immoral fool. Other than money and power, what Trump craves most is the adulation and adoration from the masses. We are just giving it to him. This is Trumpianity.

Please do not misunderstand – I am not opposed to people asking Trump for an autograph. Collecting signatures of celebrities is an American tradition. I have some autographed liner notes in my CD collection and a few books signed by the author. Nor do I object to people writing in their Bibles. If Christians are to study it and learn the precepts contained in its pages, highlighting words, underlining passages, and scrawling notes in the margins is the most reasonable thing anyone could do. People should feel free to personalize their Bibles, anything that makes the word of God more real and living for them. My Bible is unmistakably mine - decorated with stickers, comics, and photos on the cover and in the blank spaces of pages inside. On the spine, there’s a hand drawn design I want tattooed on me someday, and a picture of Lajon Witherspoon precedes the book of Galatians.

In Deuteronomy, God commanded the Israelites to “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” Many scholars in Jewish tradition took these words literally - wearing phylacteries (little leather boxes containing scripture) tied to their arms and foreheads during prayer services. In Christian tradition, we apply this verse more figuratively - binding scripture to our hearts and minds through familiarity and memorization. If you want to learn more about scripture, you should do whatever is needed to help you - excessive note taking, doodling, adding color. If it makes it easier for you bind it to your heart and mind, do it. I am a fan of creative biblical study.

But to see a politician scribbling their signature onto the Word of God? It seems offensively wrong. Blasphemous. Sacrilegious. Heretical. The Bible is a wonderful collection of stories, poems, and letters about God, how the authors understood and related to the divine. Signing your name in someone else’s Bible changes the narrative. With the stoke of a pen, you’ve made the story of God all about you. It is perhaps the most heinously narcissistic thing you could do. It is apostasy.

I am not God. Neither is Trump. When a bunch of people are clambering to have their Bibles autographed by the President of the United States of America, we should call it what it is: idolatry. If we actually read our bibles, we would know the scriptures instruct us to only worship one true God. Those words would be bound to our hearts.


A Presidential Goat

This is Trumpet. He’s a goat. And he has some fantastic hair.

A few days ago, while doing barn chores, Annie had a revelation about Trumpet’s hair: it’s a combover. His hair has a certain presidential quality to it. Maybe not presidential in a traditional sense, more like it reminds us a little of the man currently serving as president. Then we got thinking and the more we realized our goat and our president have a lot in common. And it’s more than just the floppy coif on the tops of their head. Consider the following.

They can’t stay faithful. Donald Trump initially gained fame and notoriety through tabloid headlines highlighting his marriages, mistresses, divorces, and remarriages. He has five different kids with three different women. He’s cheated on every woman who married him. Trumpet is just as much of a philanderer. A couple weeks ago, Viola gave birth to twins. Trumpet is their dad. Meanwhile, he also got Didgeridoo pregnant and she’ll be going into labor soon. If you think two baby mamas are enough, you’d be wrong because he’s also been getting frisky with two of our other lady goats: Ukelele and Kazoo. We’re going to have a farm full of goats and he’ll the daddy of all of those kids.

Trump has a weird and creepy obsession with his daughter. I’ve lost count of how many cringe inducing and inappropriate things he has said about Ivanka. Like when Trump said he’d date her if she wasn’t his daughter. Or when he asked a writer if it was wrong to be more attracted to your daughter than your wife. Or when he gave Howard Stern permission to call her “a piece of ass.” Or when he awkwardly groped her hips at the RNC convention. Trumpet also has an incestuous fascination with his kin. Let’s just say we try to keep him separated from his sister.

For Trump and Trumpet, rules don’t matter because they do whatever they desire. You want to try and contain Donald Trump? Good luck. I’m guessing his unpredictability and subversion has contributed to the unusually high turnover in the Trump administration. Likewise, Trumpet shows little interest in what you want from or expect of him. He goes where he wants. If you try to contain him, he will jump over gates and fences to do what he should not be doing.

We all know that President Trump is a raging narcissist. His sociopathic behavior is mirrored in Trumpet the goat. As far as Trumpet is concerned, everything that happens around our farm is about him. When we go out to the barn, he jumps to greet us as if we only made the trek to see him. Then he circles around us until we acknowledge him. Should any smaller creatures stand between him and his destination, he will trample straight over the top of them. If Heartsong Meadow had a daily newspaper, he would demand constant front page mentions. He poses for our trail camera. He smiles when we catch him acting naughty. And don’t ever call Trumpet a goat – he might get confused and think you’re calling him the greatest of all time.

When we feed the chickens, Trumpet thinks we’re feeding him. When we feed the horses, Trumpet thinks we’re feeding him. It doesn’t matter what animal is being fed. Trumpet assumes all food is for him. He loves to eat, much like President Trump. What would Trump be without a bucket of KFC, his extra scoop of ice cream, or a taco bowl on Cinco de Mayo? Trump and Trumpet share an insatiable appetite. Neither of them, man or goat possess the will power to resist a Big Mac.

They have so much in common: megalomaniacs, obnoxious, loud, and constantly in search of a meal. At least in the goat’s case, the hair is real.