Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Won't You Be My Neighbor?
In the general category of Pay It Forward, I'd like this blog to be for someone what Mr. Rogers was for me. Of course, I am not Mr. Rogers. I'm not even very much like Mr. Rogers. He's a guy. A nice guy. And a dead guy besides. But once upon a time he was my encourager. My consolation. My friend.
I was not a Mr. Rogers kid, but I had one of those. Not that he would cop to that now. But when he was little and I was young -- wowzer, was I ridiculously young -- there was a time of day, every weekday, we would spend with Mr. R.
That was a happy interlude of my life, leavened with a modest amount of angst. I was mostly a stay-at-home mom, doing a little freelance writing on the side -- just to remind myself I could still dress up and drive downtown. I had doubts about what kind of a parent I was being. And concerns that my focus was getting very narrow. And some loneliness and some yearning -- unexpressed and expressed -- to write books. I wanted to make something of myself. I wanted to be content in the lucky life I was leading so that God would not strike me down for ingratitude. In short, I was almost exactly the way I am now.
Having made all manner of fun of Mr. Rogers for his childlike, moderately effeminate, goody-two-shoes persona and of those nutso sidekicks and puppets on his show, I was chastened, as is so often the case, by how much comfort I derived from my half-hour with Fred.
I loved the way he liked to take his time. The patience with which he approached the lacing up of his sneakers. His special sweaters that zipped up and were knitted for him by his mom. How glad he was to see me. How generous he was about my shortcomings. How much he liked me just the clearly defective way I was.
I remember once he took us on a tour of a real airplane and explained everything we could feel good about while flying. That was prior to my magical discovery of the air-travel-soothing properties of Xanax. I was glad to have Mr. Rogers show me the little bathroom and how to fasten my seatbelt and where the pilot sits. I actually did feel a little better. (Although of course I wasn't exactly inside a plane at that time.) I was sure Mr. Rogers didn't murmur to himself, "This is barbaric" every time he walked down a narrow aisle in a very narrow room that would sooner or later go 30,000 feet into the thin air. He was completely fine with that. (I supposed that was because he totally believed in a nice life after death, but I could be glad for him on that score, as well.)
My friend Judy actually met Mr. Rogers and she got his autograph for John. The scrap of paper. which I still have around here somewhere, says, "For John and his mama, best wishes, from their television neighbor, Mr. Rogers." See? I loved that.
It had to come to an end of, course. John grew up. I grew up. Mr. Roger grew old and went on up to Heaven, and one of his sweaters went to the Smithsonian Institution. The Neighborhood of Make Believe is closed to me forever now. I'm sure I couldn't return to that little island of peace and reassurance, even if I wanted. Even in reruns. We've all moved on.
But, the Pay It Forward part, for me, is this:
If you can do something to create a space of acceptance and kindness for the tired, scared and cranky people in your life -- and the ones you meet along your way -- even if it's a little goofy and not up to your usual standard of sophistication, go for it. Make it so. Just do it.
And if someone finds a small amount of diversion and reassurance here?
I would like that very much.
As Mr. Gandhi once almost said: Let us be the Mr. Rogers we want to see in the world.