I grew up watching PBS. The shows I watched as a child were about learning, fun, and kindness: Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, The Joy of Painting, and, of course Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.
Last night, I had the privilege of seeing a film that I’ve been excited about since I learned of it’s making: “Wont You Be My Neighbor?”.
My sister said that the first person one was most likely to see, after Jesus, upon entering heaven would probably be Mr. Rogers. Reagan stated that the holy trinity of planet Earth was Mr. Rogers, Jim Henson and Bob Ross.
These men were not flashy, in-your-face artists. They didn’t wear capes. Had no “super powers”. But they were definitely heroes of mine.
When Fred Rogers first invited us to be his neighbor, the world was not so kind. War, segregation, and politics divided America. And kids had long been told that feelings were not something to be discussed or explored.
In therapy, the patient is given a “safe space” to feel and speak and explore the things that we fear.
So, I’ve been getting therapy since childhood. I just didn’t realize it when I was a young girl, tuning in and being told, every day, that I was liked, just the way I was.
I often tell my daughter that I’m proud of her. And she’ll almost always ask, “For what?” My response is, and has always been, “For being you.”
Everyone, everyone, longs to be loved for who they are. And the lessons of acceptance I learned from Mr. Rogers sank deep into my psyche. Last night’s viewing of this intimate and fascinating look at Fred Rogers: the man, brought a rush of nostalgia and happiness to me and everyone with whom I attending the showing.
People have a way of creating their own truths about public figures. I’ve heard many “urban myths” about Mr. Rogers over the last 30 years, but the reality is, he was just a simple guy with a kind heart – a heart that wanted to show children that they were important, that they were heard, and that they mattered.
With some simple music and lyrics, a bare-bones set, and some hand puppets, Mr. Roger’s Neighboorhood transformed the lives of millions. He was an anointed messenger of love, ahead of his time with lessons on acceptance and tolerance.
What struck me the most in some of the old footage I saw throughout the documentary, was the looks on the faces of the children that he met, in person. They gazed at him with such awe, and trust, and yet they, we, related to him as “one of us”. His inner child was alive and well, and able to help us navigate a scary and uncertain world.
Most people lose touch with their own inner child as they age. A few years ago, in therapy, I began to recognize my own, and give her room to heal from some things that had long ago damaged her innermost workings.
I wish I could say that our world was kinder now, 50 years after the regular airings of the original Neighborhood episodes.
But it definitely wouldn’t seem so, would it?
We still live in a world that is very much divided along the same lines that it was back then – our differences – even with all of the progress that has been made.
What gives me hope, is those lessons that those millions of children learned about kindness, that I know are buried deep within the ones who watched and absorbed Mr. Roger’s show.
We now have to tune in, not to a children’s television program, but to ourselves. Dig into the recesses of our minds and tap into the seeds of goodness that were planted there, so many years ago.
Mr. Rogers was just a man, yes. But a good man. A kind man. A unique and a revolutionary soul.
I urge you to see the film, especially if you grew up watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. But even if you didn’t. Because lessons of kindness and acceptance, especially of, to, and for ourselves, can still be learned as adults.
And even grown-ups need superheroes.