With the recent release of the new Mr. Rogers movie-- Won't You Be My Neighbor? -- I was reminded of how precious his manner and message was to so many children. Although I originally knew him through watching his show with my toddler son, I recently watched the movie through the eyes of someone interested in the plight of children with emotionally immature parents. I realized what a godsend Mr. Rogers may have been to many adult children who needed a real, empathetic grown-up to care about their feelings, not force them into the adult's world. With that appreciation, I am posting this article.
Loving Mr. Rogers
Thank goodness for Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers kept his attention on true feelings. He never lost sight of that four year old inside each of us.
Mr. Rogers made us believe that the inside of you was enough for him. Just by virtue of having drawn a breath, you were special and lovable. You were so special, in fact, he wanted to know if you would be his, could you be his, because he always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you. Listen to those lyrics. It’s a valentine sung from someone who knows what love really is.
Mr. Rogers was different from many of the people we know, because he seemed to welcome all the parts of you in his neighborhood. He figured there was room for you, and your anger, and your hurt feelings too. One of his little songs asked, “What do you do with the bad you feel, when you feel so bad you could bite?” When was the last time someone took that kind of interest in how you were feeling, when you felt so bad you could bite? Mr. Rogers let us know that what happened inside us was just as important as what happened on the outside.
Mr. Rogers was an existentialist, and he came right down on the side of everybody’s right to be here. For him, being was meaning. You didn’t have to prove anything, achieve something, or otherwise wow them in order to be worthy of love. All you had to do was be alive. And you knew, from listening to how he talked, that he had thought this all out. He was not a superficial, blithe sort of man. No, he had solid reasons for what he was doing. Mr. Rogers had figured out that once you were a four year old in need of love and safety, you were always, at some level, a four year old in need of love and safety.
The best relationships, if you think about it, all have Mr.Roger’s brand of existentialism in them. The greatest gift anyone can be given is to know that someone cherishes your presence in the world. We all need to be around people for whom our very existence is a tonic. That’s the kind of love that does not see you as a handy role, but as a fascinating, vital being who exists to enjoy and be enjoyed. Mr. Rogers understood this totally.
Mr. Rogers continued to mesmerize us, even as the action-addicted synapses in our brains were tempted to scream at his easygoing pace. But if you listened to him for a few minutes, the deep emotional centers of your brain would start uncoiling in long spools of relaxation. Aaah….Mr. Rogers says all you have to do is be. You are special whether you accomplish anything or not. He says you are worthy of care even when you are bad or angry. You have a good reason for all your feelings, he would tell you, and he knows how hard you try. He was not ambitious for you, nor critical of you. He liked you just the way you were, whether you were four or forty.
We may not be four years old anymore, but our emotional needs are exactly the same. We want someone to light up when we come in the room, we don’t want to be forgotten about when we are apart. We want to be forgiven when we are bad, and we want someone to put us first. We want someone to feel sad when we are hurt, not just say the right thing. We want someone to pay close attention when we are scared and need to talk. We want someone to be preoccupied with our security and well-being. Most of all, we want to have an effect on others, to have them treat us like we are really alive, and as real as real can be. Come to think of it, maybe that’s what Fred Rogers came to tell us, just to treat one another like every one of us is really alive inside. And to keep loving each other even when we feel bad enough to bite.