Fred Rogers, Mr. Rogers, has been in the news lately. The PBS News Hour shared writer Anthony Breznican’s touching memory of a difficult time in his life, when he meet Mr. Rogers in person. It was a sweet story, bringing back a memory of my own.
Breznican’s story reminded me of when I was a young mother of two, enrolled in a Master’s Clinical Counseling program. My kids, ages five and two at that time, were allowed to watch very limited amounts of television: Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers. So I was quite familiar with Mr. Rogers’ messages and his mannerisms. When someone in one of my classes made an offhand remark dissing the show and making fun of this grown man who had nothing more important to do than look into the camera and tell his “television neighbors” that he knew they had feelings of all kinds, they were special, and “it’s you I like.” Well, I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass to set this guy (I’m sure it was a guy) straight! Who wouldn’t like the full attention of someone saying such positive things just to you? Someone who wasn’t distracted or upset or in a hurry or too busy to notice you? I stuck up for Mr. Rogers and his familiar, comforting ways of acknowledging his television neighbors with endless patience and good grace. I kind of surprised myself! But his message and his delivery of it mattered to generations of kids, mine included.
And what have we been hearing of late after the many–too many–daily tragedies that seem to dominate the news? The words of Fred Rogers and his mother:
“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.”
Can we all take a moment, change into our virtual sweaters and sneakers, feed the fish, and think about this? There are indeed so many helpers. Can we just act more like neighbors?
And as a reminder of how a few words of encouragement can make a huge difference in someone’s life, here’s a lovely story about a real helper: My television neighbor and yours–Fred Rogers.