Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood went on the air for the first time in 1968—52 years ago. I was 15 years old that year so I missed sitting in front of the TV watching the show. I’m sure, as a teenager, I thought I had much more important things to do. But, somehow I did absorb the show—maybe occasionally catching some of it over the shoulder of my little sister. I knew about Mr. Roger’s entrance ritual—the sweater, the sneakers, the greeting, the song. I vaguely remember the puppets, especially their primitive look—not at all like the elaborately constructed puppets on Sesame Street. I grew up knowing about Mr. Rogers ethos, but don’t remember ever watching a show from start to finish. However, almost 50 years later, I’ve become a HUGE FAN. I haven’t seen the movie or the documentary yet (I will!), but, I’ve decided from reading Exactly As You Are: The Life and Faith of Mister Rogers by Shea Tuttle that I need him right now—we need him right now.
We need his slower pace. If you ever saw Mr. Rogers show, you know it moved very slowly. He talked slowly and moved slowly. My 15-year-old self was impatient with it, but, now I see that he was taking time to gaze into the camera in order to connect with the children on the other side. He was taking time to explain things and to savor the act of doing things. He was taking the time to be fully-present in every conversation, in every action, in every moment. Time didn’t control him—he controlled time—he took his time. We need Mr. Roger’s slower pace in our 2020 world that tries to convince us that time is not our own, that faster is always better.
We need Mr. Roger’s belief that every person is worthy and beloved. He started his show because he thought the children’s shows on TV at the time sent all the wrong messages. His show, on the other hand, was all about affirmation, building people up, making people feel that their feelings matter, their ideas matter, that they matter. Again, we need Mr. Roger’s affirming, encouraging spirit in our 2020 world that tries to convince us that we are not enough.
We need Mr. Roger’s kind spirit. Many see kindness as weakness, but, the more I read about Mr. Rogers, the more I see that there was nothing weak about him. Whether on the air, behind the scenes in the studio or at home, Mr. Rogers always tried to be kind. And, kindness meant being honest. When there were disagreements on the show, he would always share his opinion with honesty and conviction—always kind and respectful of the other person. We need Mr. Roger’s kindness in our 2020 world that tries to convince us that mean spiritedness is acceptable and advantageous.
Fred Rogers died in 2003. All these years later, he’s back in the news. There are numerous books written about him, a recent documentary about him and a movie about him. I believe it is because, on some level, we know that we need him right now.