I’m sitting here, watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on YouTube, and my eyes are full. If you’re over the age of 25 and younger than 60; chances are that at least some of your childhood was touched by this incredible man. I used to watch him all the time as a child growing up in the late 60s and early 70s, but his importance in my life was not revealed to me until fairly recently. A few years back, PBS released a marvelous remix of him in a vignette called “Garden of Your Mind”, in which they used Autotune to turn his words into a compelling and lovely song:
With 40+ years of hindsight, it came to me fairly quickly after watching an episode or two. In watching, my grownup brain saw a man who lived a life of utter acceptance, of vivid imagination, and of purest love for his fellow humans. I realized though, that my young brain was seeing security, gentleness, a safe space, and the positive male role model that my life lacked at the time. Who knew that my young self was seeing and being influenced by what amounted to a surrogate father that was only in my life through the auspices of a television screen? He was teaching me to love people, to accept others, to face fears, and to be a good steward of the feelings of others, and I had no idea at the time. Also, his killer jazz trio doubtless laid the foundations for the love of jazz I would discover in my early teens that endures to this day.
When I see him now, I am profoundly touched by all of the gifts I got from him as a child, and I am thankful for the other things about him that I now perceive as an adult. I am wistful that he is gone, and I long for the safe place he provided, even though I know I must provide that for myself and my family now. I hope that his show lives on so that generations of kids can benefit from his impeccable influence. He fearlessly tackled difficult issues for young children like divorce and death with tenderness and compassion. He cradled souls, he softly and gently carved an indelible mark of kindness on our world. It is a mark I wish we could all see more clearly; it is a thing our world needs a lot more of.
I hope that I can live my life in remembrance of and in practice of the lessons I learned from an amazing “father”, and the perfect neighbor. Thank you, Fred Rogers.