“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

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On Tuesday Grace and I headed over to the movie theater to enjoy a noon showing of a film we have both been eagerly anticipating for months:

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Knowing the boys probably wouldn’t enjoy this documentary on Mr. Rogers, we decided to make it on of our girls’ week activities. We were doubly excited for this particular viewing because we were watching it from the comfort of Robinson Cinemark’s luxury loungers. I had never experienced anything like it before. Leather recliners had replaced the traditional upright movie seats and each chair came with a tray for those who opted to order dinner from the concession stand. Talk about fancy shmancy! And all for the discounted Tuesday price of $5.25 per ticket!

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Grace and I found our seats and settled in for the show.

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Fred Rogers is one of my personal heroes. I loved him as a child but as an adult, especially as the mother of hurt children, I look to his example as the epitome of powerful parenting, loving acceptance, and Christ-like living.

The older I get the more I desire to be a “Mr. Rogers” in a world of chaos, unkindness, judgement, and cynicism.

It has been said that Mr. Rogers often carried around a note in his pocket that was given to him by a friend of his who was a social worker. The note read, ” Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” He carried these words with him as a reminder of that truth and his life was a reflection of that philosophy.

Mr. Rogers was my childhood friend. Every day during “arsenic hour,” as my mother called it…that fragile hour before dinner when everyone was hungry and tired and emotional..my mom would place us in the care of Mr. Rogers while she went to get dinner on the table. She walked away knowing that we were in good hands and for a half an hour we learned the most important of life lessons.

From our television neighbor I learned some of the most powerful and poignant of life’s lessons…

1. I learned the key to success:
“There are 3 ways to ultimate success. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”

2. I learned what it meant to be a hero:
“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.”

3. I learned the value of play:
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves we are helping them to feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit.”

4. I learned the power of words:
“Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person…One kind word has a wonderful way of turning into many.”

5. I learned that it takes a neighborhood:
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It is easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

6. I learned that we are important:
“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

7. I learned that love is a choice:
“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.”

8. But the main lessons I learned as I sat and watched him change his shoes were…   I had value, I was loved, and I was okay just the way I was:
“I am just so proud of all of you who have grown up with us, and I know how tough it is some days to look with hope and confidence on the months and years ahead. But I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger…I like you just the way you are.”

What a profound lesson. I think the greatest lesson I have learned during this adoption journey is the importance of loving people (particularly children) as they are, rather than trying to make them into more “loveable” children.

It is a lesson that so many need to hear. Your value has nothing to do with what you have, how you look, the choices you’ve made, the life you’ve lived, or the talents you possess. Like Mr. Rogers would say, “You have value because of who you are.”

“It’s you I like.

It’s not the things you wear,

it’s not the way you do your hair.

It’s you I like…”

Soon the lights dimmed and everyone’s favorite Pittsburgh neighbor appeared on the screen.

“From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom), Won’t You Be My Neighbor? takes an intimate look at America’s favorite neighbor: Mister Fred Rogers. A portrait of a man whom we all think we know, this emotional and moving film takes us beyond the zip-up cardigans and the land of make-believe, and into the heart of a creative genius who inspired generations of children with compassion and limitless imagination.”

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It was amazing and moving and Grace and I both left the theater inspired to be more, to do more, and to love more..

In a world filled with judgement and hate let us be a loving light of acceptance.

Perhaps we all need to ponder on the wisdom of Mr. Rogers more often. The world would probably be a much nicer place..

“Let’s make the most of this beautiful day.

Since we’re together we might as well say:

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

Won’t you be my neighbor..”

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Grace posing with the Mr. Rogers memorial statue in Pittsburgh on the 4th of July.

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