My spouse took me out to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor? as a delayed Father’s Day gift, since it just opened in town this weekend. I went in expecting to cry – I cried at the trailer in the middle of the work day – but I was surprised I didn’t sob so much as I wept quietly, almost continually. I read an interview that suggested many people have had that reaction to the trailer in part because Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was aimed at kids young enough that we often don’t remember the show in detail, but we remember the relationship we had with Mr Rogers on an emotional level.
Four years into watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, having seen some of the episodes dozens of times, I still find myself occasionally caught off-guard by something that echoes, a series of notes that strikes the feeling of being four and sprawled on my Yaya’s carpet in front of PBS. The Neighborhood of Make Believe is as primal as the Land of the Wild Things in my heart.
The hardest thing for me, and the most important thing I took away, was the glimpses we saw of his self-doubt. He worried in the end whether he was good enough, whether he had done enough. If even Fred Rogers wondered if he was a good enough person, how can I blame myself for my self-doubt and the weasels in my head?
If Fred Rogers wasn’t good enough, what chance do any of the rest of us have? So I have to believe that what he did mattered, and I can translate that past those intrusive thoughts, into the knowledge that what we all do matters. What I can do is enough, if I can just do it.
For months and months now I’ve been circling around radical kindness. Being kind has become suspect. (At one point in the documentary they refer to the “backlash” Mr Rogers got in certain circles for telling kids they were special. Because haven’t we learned yet that basic dignity and respect makes for special snowflakes?) More than that, being kind has become subversive.
So that’s where I’m trying to approach everything from. What can I do to be kind to the people around me? To my family, to my neighbors, my friends in chat rooms, my coworkers and clients?
“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” – Fred Rogers
His show was his calling, and it’s stunning to me as an adult to look at how clearly he saw his work as ministry, as something his God had put into his hands, and how little of that I needed to care about as a kid. I’ve been struggling with some burnout with the UU church, but I just committed to teaching OWL again in the fall. Because my kids may be middle school, but they still need someone to listen when they’re working through the important things going on in their lives, and if I can do that for any of them, then it’s worth it.
I don’t know that I have a calling, really, but when I find something that matters, I know I have to hold on with both hands. One of the values I learned as a very small monster was kindness, and I’ve held onto it through a lot of hard times, and I’m still holding it, somehow. And I want to share it, because you’re special and I like you just as you are.