Mister Rogers is my hero.
Not was, but is.
And I wish you could get inside my brain to understand how serious I am. Every time I immerse myself in Mister Rogers related material – books, quotes, videos, documentaries – I cry. I cry when I listen to him talk slowly and carefully, telling me that he likes me. I cry when he accepts awards by asking everyone to take time and think of those they’re thankful for. I cry when I watch him speak to the US Senate on behalf of millions of children and, in the process, change the mind of a gruff senator through kindness and humility. I cry when I read about the countless lives he touched while here on Earth.
Fred McFeely Rogers would have been 85 years old today.
In honor of his birth and life, I’d like to share a few things I love about Mister Rogers, the man.
First of all, and this isn’t one of the three things, but…Fred Rogers represents the term “hero” well. Heroes scare me, actually. In this day and age, it seems we just wait for them to fall and, more often than we’d like, they do. The more we find out about Fred Rogers, though, the more his legacy seems to be strengthened. In fact, I’m convinced that instead of saying, “See, told ya!” when an icon fell, Fred would be consumed with telling them he cares about them and he’d try to help them. He’d want to know what led them here. He’d want to know their story. Which is the first thing I love about him…
He was genuinely present in every moment and with every person.
In Tim Madigan’s fantastic book, I’m Proud of You, he recounts part of the first conversation he ever had with Fred Rogers.
“Do you know the most important thing in the world to me right now?” Fred asked me that day. No, I said, “Talking to Mr. Tim Madigan on the telephone.” I’m sure I blushed, incredulous and skeptical. But somehow, in the way he said it, in that famous, gentle, oh-so-slow voice, I knew that the famous man was speaking the truth.
Tim’s story sounds like every story I’ve heard from those who were fortunate enough to spend time with him. There was this genuine focus and care he had for each person he interacted with that bordered on the supernatural. I’m inspired by it. I’m inspired to be fully present and to care deeply for the person in front of me at any given moment.
He didn’t tell us to ignore our feelings, but rather, he helped us understand them and gave us ideas about how to express them appropriately.
I’m the absolute worst at expressing my feelings. Or describing feelings in general. To me, “mad” describes pretty much anything I perceive to be negative. “I’m not mad, I’m frustrated,” my wife will say. She’s way better at describing feelings than I am. The last year, though, has been a time of growth for me in this area. And it will continue to be for some time. I love that Mister Rogers helped kids to know that it’s ok to feel sadness, anger, embarrassment, frustration…and that we shouldn’t just stuff it inside. We need to acknowledge it and release it appropriately. This is especially important in the work I’m doing with kids in regards to being bullied. Mister Rogers said that when he was bullied as a young boy, the adults just told him to ignore it. Ignore it and they’ll stop. And there’s truth to that approach as far as the bully is concerned, but the one being bullied must never ignore the hurt and pain that has been caused them. They must acknowledge those feelings and understand it’s ok to be angry about the abuse, and then they must be taught appropriate ways to handle it. Mister Rogers gave us permission to feel.
He was an ordained minister without a traditional pulpit.
Banjamin Wagner’s wonderful documentary, Mister Rogers and Me, touched on this only briefly, but it affected me deeply. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister who used the power of media to make sure every person who saw him heard his message: You are loved. You are valuable. Just the way you are. That is the message of grace, in a nutshell. In that way, he is my ultimate example as I try to do the same. He paved the way for me and countless others; it’s up to me to walk in it.
Today I read about the joy Mister Rogers found in learning how to say the word “friends” through sign-language. To do it, you interlock your index fingers twice.
It actually made me kind of sad. Because I can’t do that. But, then I thought about what I know of Mister Rogers and imagined how he’d react if we were together. My guess is that he would have noticed I was sad, told me it was ok to feel that way, and then helped me to figure out a different way to do it.
And I love that about him.
Happy Birthday, Mister Rogers!
All of us who have been changed for the better by you
Now it’s YOUR turn! What do YOU love about Mister Rogers? What’s your favorite memory from the show? Leave a comment below!