One of the first books I learned to “read” by memory was The Monster at the End of This Book, a Sesame Street tale of light-hearted anticipation with a heavy dose of fear and crippling anxiety thrown in for realism. The book starred my favorite childhood Muppet friend, loveable furry old Grover. As the story unfolds, the cuddly blue protagonist faces an imminent horror that has surely come to eradicate his comfortable existence: the aforementioned monster at the end of the book.
Grover embarks on one heroic effort after another to halt the turn of each page and thus prevent this fateful meeting with the monster. He employs ropes and intricate knots. He uses wood and nails. And when none of that works, he gathers brick and mortar in his adorable little fuzzy hands, and, with great fanfare, builds a wall. Clearly a massive brick wall will be enough to keep him from the terror of the monster lurking, salivating for Grover’s soul, at the end of the book.
It all sounds a bit familiar.
“Build that wall.”
The building of walls has been a nasty, piercing refrain throughout newscasts and internet blasts for the past several years now, and the song continues to swell. The message leans hateful and hypnotic. And as with Grover, this need to find salvation in a structure, to keep away the unknown and seemingly bulwark an unearned geographic blessing we now somehow deem a right, is born much less out of research and reason than out of fear.
Panic has become our collective prompting. Fear shouted loud enough and strewn across t-shirts, banners, and diner signs cripples and strangles the compassion of this nation “under God.” Dancing with Grover’s fantastical worries, anxiety wins the vote. The uncertainty of the unknown leaves us shaking, selfishly clinging to the current page, digging in with bloody nails and vicious shouts.
How could we not be afraid when headlines promise a monster is waiting on the other side? Raise the razor wire. Forge the cages. Yes, build the wall, and whatever you do, don’t turn the page.
In this liberty-laden land constructed purposefully on a vibrant spectrum of colors and voices and ambitions, walls of stone have become sadly indicative of hearts of stone. Do we dare stop long enough to dissect our fear of the “monster”? We haven’t yet. But we must.
The twist at the conclusion of the Sesame Street saga happens once Grover’s wall has fallen to rubble. In the wreckage he discovers surprisingly that he is the monster waiting behind the final turn of the page. That’s good news for Grover. But as our own story plays out, perhaps we are on par for a similar, though darker, discovery.
When the wall we craft is obliterated, when the page is turned, when we cross the sovereign-enough line of demarcation established by flawed men of history, when we—when I suddenly find myself staring into the eyes of the human beings who each bear an equal portion of the Imago Dei on the other side, will I be left with only Grover’s final words hanging in condemning, solemn revelation: “I . . . am the monster at the end of this book”?
Cover image by Patrick Tomasso