My husband and I recently went to Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the new biography on the life and work of Mr. Rogers. As a lifelong fan of both the show and the man, I was excited to go if just to once again experience the joy and hope that the show never failed to bring me for so many years. However, when we left the theater, it wasn’t hope and joy that I was feeling at all. The usual warm fuzzies from those moments I shared with Mr. Rogers weren’t there. In fact, instead of feeling happy, I felt a deep sense of despair. My first thought after the movie was there is something very wrong with the world.
The movie itself was a beautiful tribute to a kind, caring man. It was full of inspirational stories, moments of kindness, and a sense of peace that you would expect to come from the work of Mr. Rogers. Then, why did this beautiful movie have the opposite effect on me? Why was I not walking away from this with a renewed faith in mankind? The answer to these questions was painfully simple: Mr. Rogers wasn’t here anymore.
Mr. Rogers passed away February 27, 2003 after a brief battle with cancer. At the time he passed away, I wasn’t watching Mr. Rogers with the frequency I did as a child. But hearing of his death brought me right back to that little girl waiting for her daddy to come home for lunch so they could watch Mr. Rogers together. It was thirty blissful minutes with the two most important men in my life. Those moments, be it brief, are where many of my passions and viewpoints on life were formed. His passing, in some ways, was also the passing of my childhood. I had just finished college, and I was on my own for the first time in life. More than that, I was on my own without one of the surest, most dependable guides of my life.
We all are.
Although many years have passed, I have yet to meet anyone, TV presence or regular human being, that has brought the same level of caring, love, and kindness to our world. And anyone taking a good look around our current world would see just how much we need someone to help teach how to manage our emotions and to love our neighbors. But Mr. Rogers isn’t here to do those things anymore, and it’s easy to feel that things will never get any better. It’s easy to be overcome by our emotions. It’s easy to focus on ourselves and forget about our neighbors.
And that last thought is what brought me to my senses. Mr. Rogers wasn’t special because he was Mr. Rogers; Mr. Rogers was special because of the choices he made in his life. He was special because of how he chose to live each and every day. He was special because he worked harder than just about anyone else to make this world a kinder place. He wasn’t a super hero, but he saw a hero in every one of us. He saw the special and unique potential that each and every one of us has.
This is far from an easy path. He chose the difficult path because he knew the reward was worth the effort. He could have chosen to create a children’s show with loud noises and silly pranks, and he would have had guaranteed ratings, numerous advertisers, and every worldly measure of success.
Instead, he chose to inspire children to be kind and patient. He chose to invest in all of us on the other side of the screen.
Mr. Rogers was a great man. But, we shouldn’t idolize him. It isn’t what Mr. Rogers would want us to do. If we want more of what made Mr. Rogers wonderful in our world, it is up to us to create it, to embody, and most of all, to live it. WE need to be Mr. Rogers.
We need to be our best selves, even when others are cruel. Or perhaps, especially when others are cruel.
Be patient in a world that moves too fast sometimes.
And maybe most importantly, find a way to like EVERYONE exactly as they are.
A few months before he passed, Mr. Rogers created a videofor his fans. His fans liked him so much because Mr. Rogers liked them – without asking for something back or determining what they could do for him. Unconditional love is a rare thing in this world, and it’s a hard thing when not everyone in your life reciprocates your love.
But, if we want more people in this world more like Mr. Rogers, we need to create it, embody it, and to live it. We won’t succeed all of the time, but the more we try, the kinder this world will be.
I’m going to go and give my kids a hug and tell them how much I like them. Does that change the world? Maybe not, but there is no doubt it does bring a little more kindness into our world. Every act of kindness is one act more than there was in the world before.