Pinocchio’s World in January 2023


It’s a new year according the calendar, but it’s the same world we had hoped to leave behind on New Year’s Eve. It’s still Pinocchio’s world. Pinocchio’s nose has grown longer each year. Those who have mistaken insurrection for patriotism, and party loyalty for fidelity to the Constitution have all but forgotten Jiminy Cricket. The voice of conscience is missing. All that’s left is the song meant to encourage children:

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you
If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do
Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

Optimism and the hand grenade

Before taking the oath of office, a prerequisite for the new Congress to convene, is sworn in, the new majority pulled the pin on the hand grenade before throwing it, leaving the House a mess without a Speaker.


The worst of it is the failure to face and act upon the reality of climate change. Whether by willful ignorance, misinformation, blind optimism, despair, or humankind’s Achilles’ Heel — our mortal propensity toward illusion — there is a deafening silence, louder than the calamity of war, that will not go away in 2023 and the years that follow.

Jiminy’s optimism has faded and the voice of conscience is weaker now. If Pinocchio’s nose had grown longer in private, it would be less consequential. No one would follow him. But Pinocchio cannot stand living without a stage and applause. The audience has come to the theater wanting Pinocchio to be more than someone’s puppet. Whoever is managing the strings, one thing is certain. It is not Gipetto. Pinocchio never goes on stage without Jiminy Cricket.

My father’s absence, return, and absence again

What child does not find hope in Jiminy Cricket’s calm invitation to wish upon a star, no matter who you are? But what adult can believe it “makes no difference who you are/ Anything your heart desires/Will come to you/If your heart is in your dream”? Does it? Does fate step in? Will fate see us through 2023? Fanciful thinking won’t get us through.

Questions of reality and illusion have been part of me since the day my father stepped from the B-29 Bomber at Logan International Airport. My mother and grandparents had assured me that I did have a daddy, but they had also prayed for his safety, and listen to the radio, hoping there would be no bad news about American troops in the South Pacific.

When my father stepped from the B-29 at Logan Airport and scooped me up in his arms, I pulled back. “Are you really my Daddy?” “I am,” he said. “And I’m never going away again!” The next morning, he was gone. What child knows the difference between “I’m never going away again!” and leaving the next day to be honorably discharged from the Army Air Corps? 

Skepticism in Pinocchio’s world never left me. What is, and is not, trustworthy; what is real and what is illusion; what are faith, hope, and love in a Pinocchio world? In the adult world of 2023, Jiminy Cricket has changed his tune, but his call to conscience remains. Fate and destiny are not the same. Optimism is not the same as hope. Faith is a leap of faith, hope, and love that plunges into a sea of not-knowing and not-yet for the sake of a destiny greater than fate.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian and social commentator, Brooklyn Park, MN, January 5, 2023

Pinocchio and Pinochle in America

pinocchioWorking in his carpenter shop in Florence, Italy, Geppetto, the marionette-maker, could not have imagined that Pinocchio would become President of the United States of America. Neither could Carlo Collodi whose The Adventures of Pinocchio (1881) painted a more complex, less likable Pinocchio than the Walt Disney film version (1940) that popularized the story in America.

My generation grew up on Pinocchio. How could we not? He was eternally boyish. He was charming. When we told a fib to our parents, we empathized whenever poor little Pinocchio’s nose told on him. Pinocchio was a lovable liar in whom we saw our own flawed but lovable selves without the less attractive dimensions of Collodi’s original Pinocchio who, on the day he is born, cruelly snatches the wig from his marionette maker’s head. From his very first day, Pinocchio has a mind of his own far beyond and quite different from Geppetto’s imagination.

Neither Carloddi nor Geppetto could have imagined that on January 20, 2017 Pinocchio would raise his right hand to take the oath of office as President of the United States. If Geppetto were still able to pull the marionette’s strings, it would not happen. Geppetto would remember his stolen wig. And, if perchance, Geppetto were on the dais when the humanized Pinocchio raises his right hand, he might stretch out his own hand to check whether Pinocchio is wearing his wig.

Pinocchio has a way with words. He calls those who question his integrity ‘liars’ and ‘criminals’ He rallies people with his limited vocabulary. He gropes women and brags about it — it’s not every wooden marionette who gets to do what Geppetto would find deplorable. When he makes promises he cannot keep, his nose grows, but not everyone can see it. It grows slowly, inch-by-inch so that the original image blinds people to its peculiar length.

But there’s another dimension to Pinocchio’s personality that is largely unknown to the general public. He loves to play Pinochle, the game for four that is includes a trump suit, with his family. It’s harder to lie to three family members than it is on stage, and it may be that Pinochle may yet shrink the length of Pinocchio’s nose. Ivanka and Melania didn’t appear in Collldi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio or the Disney version of the story, but their parts in the ongoing story may save us yet.

Those who cringe at the thought of Pinocchio with his groping hands on a nuclear arsenal can always hope Pinocchio’s third wife and favorite daughter will transform the evening Pinochle game as a way to serve the people. In Pinochle the trump suit get spread among the players; no one can dominate. If we’re lucky, Ivanka and Melania will gentle the meanness Pinocchio exhibited when he snatched Geppetto’s wig the day he was ‘born’, keep his nose short, and do for Pinocchio’s what Eva Braun was never able to do: keep his right arm from rising to a salute.