I still miss Mr. Rogers

Mental Floss (great name and great site) has a list of “15 Reasons Mister Rogers Was the Best Neighbor Ever.” (And if you listen to NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, as I do, this is the list they used for this week’s “Not My Job” game.) This one is my favorite:

799E1900-04CC-4E39-99C4-6C813D84161C.jpg1. Even Koko the Gorilla loved him
Most people have heard of Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who could speak about 1000 words in American Sign Language, and understand about 2000 in English. What most people don’t know, however, is that Koko was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fan. As Esquire reported, when Fred Rogers took a trip out to meet Koko for his show, not only did she immediately wrap her arms around him and embrace him, she did what she%u2019d always seen him do onscreen: she proceeded to take his shoes off!

Or maybe this one:

6. He Was Genuinely Curious about Others
Mister Rogers was known as one of the toughest interviews because he’d often befriend reporters, asking them tons of questions, taking pictures of them, compiling an album for them at the end of their time together, and calling them after to check in on them and hear about their families. He wasn’t concerned with himself, and genuinely loved hearing the life stories of others. Amazingly, it wasn’t just with reporters. Once, on a fancy trip up to a PBS exec’s house, he heard the limo driver was going to wait outside for 2 hours, so he insisted the driver come in and join them (which flustered the host). On the way back, Rogers sat up front, and when he learned that they were passing the driver’s home on the way, he asked if they could stop in to meet his family. According to the driver, it was one of the best nights of his life—the house supposedly lit up when Rogers arrived, and he played jazz piano and bantered with them late into the night. Further, like with the reporters, Rogers sent him notes and kept in touch with the driver for the rest of his life.

So now I have just finished reading other articles about him, his life, and the memorial service after he died. (The reason for all this attention, by the way, is that it is the 40th anniversary of the start of his show.) I am not ashamed to say that I am crying. I can’t say exactly why, but I am. And I am not the only one, the comments on the Mental Floss site include several people saying they are moved in the same way.

I remember watching Mr. Rogers when I was a child, on the couch in the afternoon. It wasn’t my favorite show, but I always watched it. There was something truly engaging about it that took me in. Now, as an adult, I can see the way he spoke directly to us and didn’t speak to us like kids (how is it that Teletubbies ever existed? Let alone all of their disturbed alien offspring), he spoke about tough issues, took us to neat places (like where they made pianos), and liked us just the way we were.

Right now though I am thinking about how so many of us don’t just remember him so fondly but are truly better people for his existence and career. A career that has been lampooned, mocked, and no doubt is nothing to which most of us have aspired. We all seek to make more profound impacts on the world. His little show seemed just that, a silly little show. Yet we remember it and are better for it. Even those who did not see it first hand know of his character, not “Mr. Rogers” but the depth and breadth of a man who loved God first and everyone else next.

Here is the example of someone merely and yet monumentally setting about the task set before him, determined to do it to the best of his ability, with all humility and with modest goals. Yet God transformed these simple tasks and goals, the gentle songs, the simple affirmation of a child’s worth, and created within millions of people the core character and spirit that is the foundation of “a royal priesthood and a holy nation.”

I spend far too much time in my life worrying about what kind of scholar I am, whether I am a decent administrator, and if I will be able to live up to others’ expectations of me. I am sure that Fred Rogers had his own doubts, struggles, and insecurities. But he never let that affect his manner or message, whether on screen or off, he was the same caring and loving individual. That was “all” he was. Can we be anything more than that? Can there be a higher aspiration or a greater goal?

I still miss Mr. Rogers, but I continue to thank God for him. And I think I will wear a cardigan tomorrow.

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