My great friend Brendan McGinley wrote a touching and beautiful piece on Mister Rogers, just in time for his 85th birthday and the 10th anniversary of his passing.
The article brought the comments section together in love and tearful unity, where even the crankiest trolls were misting. A Cracked.com member created a petition to make his birthday a national holiday: March 20th – Rogers Day. Celebrities such as Alyssa Milano retweeted the article. Milano actually has the whole show on DVD for her son.
I read the piece a few times, with tears in my eyes, watching the embedded media that brought me back to my earliest memories, to the years that shaped me, and I realized I’m so much of who I am because he was my neighbor. I was filled with a warm and fuzzy feeling, and that night I had sweet dreams, taken back my childhood. My childhood was love. I need to make sure that my adulthood is love as well, even when in a world where hate is often revered.
I grew up on Mr. Rogers in the early 80s. Sure, I liked Sesame Street and 3-2-1 Contact and My Magic Garden along with a handful of other classic educational kids’ shows, but my favorite was Mr. Rogers. My mom even used to explain time to me in terms of episodes. “Your nap will be two Mr. Rogers.” “We are only going to be here for one Mr. Rogers.”
I didn’t realize why at the time, just that I looked forward to his changing his shoes and cardigan, seeing King Friday and Lady Lane, and learning about the world through his helpful videos. Although I hadn’t seen it in decades, I remembered this crayon video with almost total recall:
‘Hi Neighbor!” It felt like he was talking to me. He was my friend. And I had a sad feeling when he dressed to leave, but I knew I was loved and I would see him later. Luckily, I was raised in a family overflowing with love, and I had the added bonus of growing up in a time where there was at least one show on TV that made sure I knew I was special, with no gimmicks, no merchandise, no ulterior motive other than to love. Like Morrie says in Tuesdays with Morrie:
“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in. Let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love, we think if we let it in we’ll become too soft. But a wise man named Levin said it right. He said, ‘Love is the only rational act.'”
I try to live a life of love, following the Jesuit motto of “men and women for others.” This is a wonderful reminder to make love a priority.
Reflecting on Mr. Rogers as an adult, I can see the dichotomy between the way I was raised and the way society tells me to live now. The media and our peer groups often want us to harden, to be sarcastic and tough and snarky. We are taught to be selfish, not in the “you are special” way of Mr. Rogers, but in the “I will get mine or else” way. Relationships are disposable. If a friend or lover doesn’t do what you want, give ’em hell. We are criticized for giving selflessly, for forgiving too quickly, for being too “soft” and devoting our lives to others — and for loving everyone for exactly who they are, not trying to make them who we want them to be. In our age of self-help books and photoshopped models, of people who are told they must go to college in order to be anything, that they must earn this amount of money, buy this house, live here, wear that, find this funny, get this hairstyle and this surgery, be this sexy, do this and that . . . how nice to think that someone might actually like you for you. Just as you are.
Bridget Jones’s Diary gave it a go:
Remember, love is all you need.
We all know the original, right? Well, I think this version is lovely as well. The whole movie was made with so much love from the cinematography to the music and voices — it really moved me. I like to be moved. In a world where we are all “too cool” to feel, I’m proud to be a feeler. And from reading the comments section on Brendan’s article, I am not alone. Mister Rogers was a role model in the formative years for generations of children. Somewhere inside, after years in the neighborhood, we were cultivated with loving, caring, empathetic hearts. We can be helpers.
After the Newtown shooting, like many others, I was seeking some kind of solace in a dark, bleak word. Shuffling through the facebook statuses and updates, the one that really spoke to me was a quote from Mr. Rogers along with a touching photo. I blogged this back in December.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” — Mister Rogers
His love was so genuine – just look at the beauty of that photo. Everyone reacted to him, even Koko. Watch the clip in Brendan’s article. I don’t want to spend time here rephrasing or repeating what Brendan compiled so eloquently. I’m just reacting to it, because I have been overflowing with emotions in a very good way.
When I was telling Brendan how much I loved his article, he said that the response has been overwhelming and he just wants to “stay out of the way and let his accolades flow.” Fred did all the work. “Fred is love,” he said.
I was lucky to grow up in a family that, flaws and all, was also love. I try to pass that love on to my students, to my friends and family, and hopefully will be able to share that love with my own children one day.
I conclude this rumination with gratitude. Gratitude for Mister Rogers’ ministry, gratitude for all of the wonderful people in my life in the states, here in Italy, and all over the world. I’m grateful for the amazing and happy childhood I had, where I could play with my dolls, color, run outside with my brother, and then back into the loving arms of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who made sure I knew I was loved. I am flooded with memories of Yahtzee and Boggle on a porch of a New Hampshire cabin, of baking with Grandma and licking the icing, of her holding my hand at night when I was afraid of the big bad wolf in Granny’s country house. Memories of walking to the newsstand with Grandpa for a pack of m&ms each day, even though there was half a bag sitting in the fridge from yesterday’s walk. Memories of Mom reading to me and Rich, both curled up on her lap. Memories of nightmares and tears, soothing songs, cuts and scrapes, band aids and ice cream cones. I remember Dad following us around with the movie camera, trying to document everything, and Mom making sure that — no matter what — we sat together around the kitchen table for dinner. I grew up with everything I ever needed because I was loved, and somewhere there is always a part of me sitting in front of the TV singing “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Even though I’m in Italy now, I’m still in the neighborhood. 143.