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The Secret of Life of Mascots


The Teddy Bear is named after the 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt – affectionately known

as Teddy. Roosevelt was one of America’s most beloved Executive Chiefs. His grandiose personality merged opposites – combativeness and playfulness, tunnel-vision and curiosity, grumpiness and cheerfulness, fairness and stubbornness, shrewdness and innocence – and his furry mascot captured all that: a cuddlesome and dangerous predator, a creature that in the wild causes gasping terror but in the crib brings soothing comfort. For over 100 years, Teddy has helped children, and maybe a few adults, chase away nocturnal fears and fall into untroubled sleep, while for millennia real bears have done the opposite.

Roosevelt’s close friend and political ally William Taft succeeded him in the world’s highest office – indeed, Taft’s presidential win had much to do with Roosevelt’s unwavering support of him. The friendship fell apart 3 years later – one of

history’s saddest political fallings out. But before that rupture, when Taft was still only president-elect and the two men were still close friends, an Atlanta toymaker created a mascot for Taft that, they hoped, would replace the Teddy Bear in the affections of children. It was called Billy Possum.

It was a pointy-faced, beady-eyed rodent.

And it was an epic fail. Doris Kearns Goodwin, in her magisterial The Bully Pulpit, writes, “…expectations that Billy Possum would rival the Teddy in popularity were swiftly dashed when the stuffed creature, resembling a ‘giant rat,’ caused children to cry.”

And that was the end of that.

It’s got me pondering three things. One, what might be an appropriate stuffed toy to represent America’s current president-elect, Donald Trump? But all my thoughts on that turn cynical and gloomy, and so I best not pursue it.

So the second thought: what might be an appropriate mascot for me? If I had to represent myself as a stuffed toy, what would it be – what animal, or creature, or mythological beast? I know the ones I would flatter myself with: lion, horse, eagle, centaur, Jedi. I favor the noble, the majestic, the just, the wise, the strong.

But what might others suggest?

I think, maybe, a small loud dog. One of those wiry kind with a sharp bark. But maybe a small loud dog in recovery – a small loud dog trying to become a large quiet dog, a yappy Maltese aspiring to be a dignified Mastiff. The first part of me life has been about overcompensating for numerous deficiencies. The latter part has been about trying to stop doing this. I’m currently somewhere in the middle.

Which leads me to the third thought: what might Jesus’ mascot be?

That’s actually simple: a lion and a lamb. His life merges these extreme opposites. He is fierce, wild, kingly, dangerous. And he is gentle, tame, meek, vulnerable. He roars, and he baas. He conquers, and he bleeds. His growl is awful. His bleat is heartbreaking. He is not safe, but he is good.

And this: the more I meet him in both guises, the lion who rules, the lamb who was slain – the more I fear his terrible beauty and yet draw near to his tender weakness – the more I am freed to become my true self.

Who knows, I may just end up that centaur after all.

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