Like most twentysomethings, I have fond memories of watching “Blue’s Clues,” a children’s television program in which the (at the time, to me) coolest guy ever, “Steve,” and his best pal, “Blue,” an adorable, spotted cartoon dog, would follow a trail of clues (i.e., Blue’s paw prints) to figure out Blue’s plans for the day. Life was much simpler back then. As a child, I had the thoughts, and responsibilities, of a child. My job simply was to grow and learn. That included playing with Blue.
As St. Paul tells us in his first letter to the people of Corinth, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Such things, however, must come to an end; it’s the natural way of the world. Children grow up and have, God willing, children of their own. And it’s unsettling when one meets a person who hasn’t, but should have, made this critical transition to adulthood.
And yet, this appears to be the situation for lots of my millennial peers.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, without an internet connection for the past few weeks—which is a power move of which I heartily approve—you know that Steve recently made a brief reappearance of sorts in our lives. And the internet is “weeping.”
Dressed exactly as he was about two decades ago, but this time with a new ball cap, he pokes his head on screen, lightly shuffling into full view. Haltingly, somewhat nervous and unsure of himself, but with a face full of excitement, he says, directly to you and me, “Hi, you got a second?”
He pauses for my response, just as he did during all those afternoons as I snacked on carrot sticks and a juice box, when I was so proud to have spotted a clue before he apparently did.
Ok. You remember how, when we were younger, we used to run around and hang out with Blue and find clues and talk to Mr. Salt and freak out about the mail and do all the fun stuff and then, one day, I was like, “Oh, hey, guess what? Big news . . . I’m leaving. This is my brother, Joe; he’s your new best friend,” and then I got on a bus and I left, and we didn’t see each other for a really long time?
Can we just talk about that?
“Great. Because I realize that was kind of abrupt. I just kind of got up and went to college, and that was really challenging . . .”
On this, I agree with him. With no warning, on a fateful day in 2002, Steve got on a bus at the end of the episode and left for college, leaving me behind, shocked. Though I haven’t asked my parents, I wouldn’t be shocked if at the time I was distraught over it.
At this point, Steve gets visibly emotional—wistful, really. “And then look at you, and look at all you have done and all you have accomplished in all that time. . . . It’s just so amazing, right? I mean, we started out with clues, and now it’s . . . student loans, jobs, and families. And some of it has been kind of hard.”
This is playing directly to those who made up a verb, “adulting,” for the totally mundane—and inescapable—process of growing up. And yet, Steve makes it a big deal.
Yes, we’ve grown up. This is reality. But he’s not done.
“I wanted to tell you that I really couldn’t have done all of that without your help. . . . I guess I just wanted to say that, after all these years”—here, he looks straight into the camera, almost teary-eyed—“I never forgot you. Ever. And I’m super glad we’re still friends.”
To be clear: I’m not some heartless monster, prowling about looking to destroy other people’s warm fuzzies. In fact, I want to insist that my generation ought to hold itself to a higher standard and not settle for this—the emotional equivalent of junk food.
A fictional character—even one who reemerges and reminds us of a time when life was seemingly fuller, more magical—can’t love you. He was never our friend, properly speaking. But I understand the attraction. Nostalgia is a powerful force, especially when the present is dark, dreary, and challenging, and one feels like he’s lost and drowning, as many do. Those feelings are real. But, as intoxicating as it can be, one must exit the pseudo-reality that too many are trapped in.
It seems to me that those eating this up are sadly so desperate for anyone to say that they’re proud of them,that they are good people, and friendship material, that they’ll take it from anyone, anywhere—even from a B-list musician and former host of a children’s show.
It’s sad, frankly, because we are made for so much more, and we all deserve so much more. It breaks my heart that so many don’t recognize this truth. We all need real contact with real people from our real lives who really care to tell us the sorts of things that Steve has said. And until we get it, we’ll be chasing that high through viral videos like Steve’s. But it’ll be futile, like chasing shadows.
Each of us is flesh and blood, and we need embodied love and affirmation. The satisfaction we crave won’t come through a screen—not even if a childhood hero is on it.
Don’t you dare settle for that.