I was visiting my family in western New York for Thanksgiving this past week and got the wonderful opportunity to chill with my eight-year-old niece and three-year-old nephew. Following the obvious tumult of the recent U.S. presidential election, it was really nice to sit and play cars and dolls with these kiddos. Kids are simple. They may be bright as bulbs but they are completely present in the moment. All that matters is that my niece’s doll and my nephew’s doggies defeat the bad pirate. I like to refer to my niece and nephew as my little “Sarah” and “Duck,” and there is a good reason why.
Sarah Gomes Harris was an animator working for BBC, when she created Sarah & Duck. During staff meetings, Sarah doodled on napkins and scrap paper. At one particular meeting, Sarah doodled a simple picture of a small girl in a hoodie walking a mallard on a leash. She called the picture “Sarah & Duck” and left the picture on the conference table. Apparently, someone with a bit more power than Sarah Gomes Harris discovered the picture and fell in love with it. From there, Ms. Harris and Tim O’Sullivan took the reigns and created a handmade treasure for BBC television. Aimed at two to four year olds, Sarah & Duck became an overnight sensation in the UK and once it made its way to the US it developed a stronger following of adults than children.
Sarah–in the show–is an adorable seven-year-old girl who always wears a striped hoodie. She looks like something the young Tim Burton may have sketched before his filmmaking days. She has enormous eyes and jet-black shoulder length hair, which she always keeps covered by a green hat. Although she is very simply drawn, her presence on the screen evokes a contagious sense of joy and wonder at the world. Sarah’s best friend is a little mallard who she simply calls Duck. Duck is round and excitable. He wants to be a penguin and has a toy robot that he loves to play with.
Sarah and Duck, much like in Arnold Lobel’s classic Frog and Toad books, never judge one another too harshly. Sometimes Duck tries to join the geese in the fountain at the local park or engages in restless antics. Sarah’s response? A brief giggle followed by “Silly Duck!” Nothing is too heavy or complicated for Sarah and Duck. They take things as they are. Each episode involves a particular task. Maybe Sarah and Duck are baking a cake, going to the park, buying a bouncy ball, or learning how to knit scarves with their neighbor Scarf Lady, a loopy woman whose smartass handbag corrects her and rolls his eyes every time she is confused, which is quite often.
When Donald Trump was elected as our next president, I went through the stages of grief. I believe I still am. Trump’s influence has created an incredibly palpable fear among the people of our country, particularly those living in marginalized communities. Lion’s Roar, the premier magazine of American Buddhism, published an article on our response to the election. Some of the great American Buddhist teachers, priests, and masters offer simple reflections on how to live as human people full of light following the election of a fascist, incompetent, fear-mongering, celebrity tyrant. In one article, “After the Election: Buddhist Wisdom for Hope and Healing,” Zen Buddhist psychologist and poet Jack Kornfield, author of After Ecstasy, the Laundry writes,
Whatever your point of view, Take time to quiet the mind and tend to the heart. Then go out and look at the sky.
Judy Lief, Tibetan Buddhist teacher, says in her portion of the article, Be in the Moment:
Now that you are more solidly somewhere, you can let yourself be more clearly sometime. When your thoughts drift from the past or the future, from memories and regrets to plans and dreams, you can gently bring yourself back to the present moment.
Both of these quotes from “After the Election” are what Sarah & Duck is all about. Sarah and Duck disagree at times. Heck, they’re a seven-year-old girl and a mallard. But, what they always do, despite their occasional differences, is remain fully present in each moment. They are thoroughly enchanted by time devoted to simply “sitting and thinking” and by the umbrella that they find in the closet.
Sarah’s routine of having hot lemon water at the end of every adventure is, in and of itself, a Zen practice. The gentle narration and invisible companionship of Roger Allam is pretty darn Zen, too. Allam’s voice guides Sarah in recognizing, naming, and acknowledging her feelings, but doesn’t ever address these feelings or thoughts as “good” or “bad.” Allam, one of the few adult presences in the series, takes just as much joy in baking a cake and walking a simple path in the park as Sarah and Duck do.
I kid you not, the day after the election, I got home from work and in a state of anxiety and confusion, I found Sarah & Duck on Netflix and allowed the simple, joy-filled moments shared between Sarah, Duck, and the Narrator ground me on my couch with my cup of tea and my cat snuggled up on my belly. What a wonderful moment it was! Truly. Donald Trump, America’s wealthy boss man, might be our President Elect, but he can’t take away my sense of mindfulness, presence, and ensuing gratitude.
Calmly sitting in a chair or on the floor, I invite you to watch this brief clip from an episode of Sarah and Duck in which our characters make bread:
Now, for some lemon water…
Joey Armstrong is a hospital chaplain from Western New York. He is also a playwright and amateur cartoonist. Follow him on Twitter @chaplainmystic and Medium, where he writes more reviews for film and television.