Friday, July 6, 2018

Remembering a hero for our time

     Don’t get caught without a Kleenex while watching “Won’t You be my Neighbor?”  I think a lot of my seatmates at the theatre were in the same boat as me rummaging through their pockets for something to shed a tear or two for pure nostalgia’s sake. 
    I will go out on a limb and rate it one of the best movies of the entire year. 

     The minute the familiar theme song came on and Mister Rogers walked through the door on the giant movie screen, the floodgates opened. Memories of my daughter growing up glued to Sesame Street – that was her favorite show being a lively kid – where numbers and letters were taught in a bouncy way, and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the quieter series dealing with feelings in a sensible manner, took me bunny hopping down a trail of reminiscence. 

     It’s good to sit with your feelings –happy or sad - and not push them away.

     I had much to process, and I would suspect the rest of the audience did, too. If we could have sat around after the show and related our own special Mister Rogers’ moments, I believe we would have gone from strangers to neighbors in no time flat.  Mister Rogers would have liked that, too. 
      The movie skillfully used old footage telling a narrative applicable to contemporary society. Truth, honesty and love were the themes of Fred Rogers’ on and off-air ministry – he was an ordained Presbyterian minister. However, today’s device-oriented generation might find it difficult settling in to his gentle, slower pace for relating to life’s complexities. 
     Morgan Neville’s documentary shared the public Mister Rogers more than his private life. I always wondered about a Mrs. Rogers, and she appeared with their two sons throughout explaining bits and pieces. 

     One afternoon I recall my daughter telling me to “leave the room because I am talking to Mister Rogers.”  Her eyes were red-rimmed from crying and tears were streaming down her face. 
    The day before my daughter had done a real no-no when a younger child and her mother came to visit. The girls went to play in her bedroom. At one point it got very quiet and I became suspicious. I went down the hall, opened the door to discover my daughter with scissors in her hand and locks of blond hair all over the floor. Both girls stood frozen. Suddenly the little guest flew out into the living room escaping from a dreadful ordeal and into her mother’s arms.  Her hair was chopped off in a ragged mess. 
     How does a parent deal with that? It was a touchy situation.

      Mister Rogers came to the rescue. He taught the children of the late 1960s to the early years of this decade how to navigate some of the more difficult parts of life.  I don’t know how it was resolved in her mind, but my daughter came upstairs in better shape than previously. She and I made an uncomfortable visit to the friend’s house to express her sorrow soon after. 

     Thinking back, I would often sit in the corner of the living room soaking in Mister Rogers’ advice, too. I was going through a rough patch finding my way.
    Although he zipped up his sweater to be more informal, Mister Rogers’ kept his tie intact with gentle formality. He took the responsibility of rolemodeling seriously with his puppet alter egos. That’s his legacy.  
     He’ll forever be Mister Rogers - never Fred Rogers - no matter how grown up we think we’ve become.