Have you seen the photo of the newborn babies in the hospital in Pittsburgh, wearing red sweaters in honor of Mr. Rogers? It is nothing short of heartwarming, and of course, is a well-deserved nod to a man who taught generations of children to truly love themselves and all others they meet in the world. I do not believe that there is a soul on the planet who can utter a negative word about Mr. Rogers, at least a truthful one, and with the new Tom Hanks movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, now out, people everywhere are spreading his inspirational messages about kindness. Undoubtedly, Mr. Rogers is a wonderful role model, but his standards are killing me, and I’m not sure how worthy I am of living in his beautiful neighborhood.
As a child, I watched him cheerfully open the door of his house to the lovely sound of a piano glissando. He smiled at me, gently retrieved his sweater from the closet, and chatted with me about his afternoon agenda, as he carefully changed into his clean pair of comfortable shoes and lovingly fed his fish. Like other children, I was charmed and attuned.
As an adult, I watch Mr. Rogers and wonder if he ever commuted to and from work, up and down Fifth Street in North Philadelphia, behind SEPTA’s Bus 47? Huh, Fred? Did you, Fred? Did you ever get stuck in cross-traffic at the entrance to Roosevelt Boulevard? Fred, I need that shoe to throw at the bus that won’t move into its own lane, because this guy in a white van is approaching me at 50 mph and is getting on this ramp whether or not I’m in his way. Your song that starts, “It’s such a good feeling to know you’re alive…” has taken on a whole. New. Meaning.
Speaking of shoes, Fred, have you ever tried to get four children - and all eight of their feet - to church on time? Eight feet. Six shoes. Wanna know why? Because two shoes were stuffed into Mommy’s pillowcase, which was apparently being used as a grocery bag in a game of “store”. That’s why. Who in their right mind will think to look for shoes in a pillowcase at 8:57 a.m. on a Sunday morning? Not this girl. Nope. In order to find them, this girl had to fall over that pillowcase in a mad (and noisy) dash around the house. That’s what she had to do.
I don’t know, Fred. I just don’t know how you maintained such unfaltering equilibrium in this dizzyingly chaotic world, but your patience and grace were certainly gifts from God that you used well, in order to slow us down enough to hear messages about love and kindness. You were who you were, and you lived as you were created to live, and despite the velocity of our society, which does not appear to be running out of fuel any time soon, we heard you.
I heard you tell me that I was special because there was only one of me in the world, and I heard you tell me to care for my neighbor, so guess what I did just for you, Fred? The other day, it was raining, and I was driving down Fifth Street when I noticed an older woman without an umbrella scooting frantically toward the corner, looking behind her. I glanced in the rearview mirror to see what was making her so nervous and noticed the beast itself, Bus 47, right behind me. I didn’t know anything about the woman, but it was clear that she needed to be on that bus, so guess what I did, Fred? You would have been so proud of me. I pressed on the brake ever-so-calmly with my shoe and slowed my car to a snail’s pace, allowing her enough time to scurry to the stop before Bus 47 could blow past her. The driver expressed vehement disapproval of my thoughtfulness, but the woman’s relieved expression was worth the honking and screaming that my actions elicited. She caught the bus and got out of the rain. Everyone else was late for work that day, but that’s beside the point.
Clearly, I will never be Mr. Rogers. Nobody will. That was his point. There is only one of every person in the world. Not all of us are peaceful and patient, but we all have opportunities that we are invited to take to make the world easier for the people around us, and that is beautiful no matter what else is going on in the neighborhood.