I handed my ticket to the usher at the movie theatre. He glanced at it, looked at me and said, “Won’t you be my neighbour?” I smiled at him and said, “Why yes I will!” We exchanged grins in the moment before I disappeared into the dark theatre. It was a brief spark of connection at the end of a long day.
My eldest two kids will tell you that they didn’t have a television in the 1990’s when they were little. They had a gap in their media references when they went to school, until I introduced DVDs into their lives so they could catch up. They mostly watched Sesame Street and Blues Clues, but Mr. Rogers was on their radar. I didn’t really understand the soft-spoken man in the cardigan. After watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I have had a 90 minute glimpse into his wisdom.
This is not a movie review; this is only my own thoughts about the relevance of Mr. Rogers’ philosophy in today’s messed up, beautiful world. While the news and Twitter remind me how messed up we are, I look outside and see the trees, blue sky and mountains. The Mr. Rogers movie reminded me that the world is beautiful too.
I wept at the sweet innocence of Won’t You Be My Neighbor. There was a lot of sniffling in the theatre, so I know I wasn’t the only one. The main message was: you are loved exactly as you are. This is what Mr. Rogers repeated over and over to children throughout the decades. If you are loved exactly as you are, this means love is not withdrawn when you stumble or aren’t perfect. This is a powerful message to impart to children. I think of how much pain in this world could have been avoided if we all felt loved and attached.
Mr. Rogers was not himself perfect or without his critics. There are those who think that telling each and every child that they are special has created generations of entitled adults. I call baloney on that. Every child is special and so every adult is too. You shouldn’t have to ‘work hard’ to prove your worth. You are worthy simply because you are human. Part of Mr. Rogers’ background taught him that everybody is loved by God, no matter what. The no matter what part is really important.
Brene Brown has written extensively about feeling worthy. Dr. Robert Maunder is in the midst of releasing a compelling set of stories called The Damage I Am about a man struggling with his own worth because of childhood trauma. The podcast Other People’s Problems often has episodes echoing the same theme.
As Mr. Rogers says: “Love or the lack of love is the root of everything.”
Towards the end of the film, there is a scene where Mr. Rogers meets a young man named Jeffrey Erlanger, who is quadriplegic and uses a wheelchair. Having my own son with a disability, I sat up and paid careful attention. Just watch Mr. Rogers’ conversation with Jeffrey.
Notice how Fred Rogers carefully listens to Jeffrey. He acknowledges Jeffrey above his wheelchair and praises him for his extensive knowledge of his medical conditions. Fred brings up the notion of being blue and confesses to feeling blue when he was a boy. We learn earlier in the film that Mr. Rogers was often sick as a child. Perhaps this is the foundation of his empathy. Jeffrey and Mr. Rogers sing the song “It’s You I Like” together.
I wonder if I’ve imparted unconditional love to my own son with a disability. If we’ve had the right balance of therapy and acceptance to ensure he doesn’t believe himself broken and for him to believe that he is loved exactly as he is.
I work on telling and showing all my children that they are loved – no matter what – every single day. Some days are better than others. On the bad days, my own personal pain that I’ve been carrying around for a very long time gets in the way. So the next day I get up and try again.
I believe that imparting both the knowledge and feeling to children that they are loved is the most important work of a parent. People and governments who block children from this love are the purest kind of evil. This need to believe in our hearts that we are worthy continues into adulthood too.
The movie ends powerfully with Mr. Rogers asking for ten seconds of silence to think of those who have encouraged us to become who we are today. I invite you to close your eyes and think of your special person too. (For me, this is my grandma).
Today, take a break from CNN and Twitter and get outside instead. Out there, look for the good in the world, the helpers. We all can be helpers, starting with the children. Thank you Mr. Rogers for this gentle + timeless reminder. xo.