Sunday, February 28, 2010
Fred McFeely Rogers; March 20, 1928 – February 27, 2003
Among other astonishing tidbits of wisdom -- like, say, a behind-the-scenes look at how crayons are made -- Fred Rogers provided me with my very first lesson on how you can totally and completely love someone with all your heart...even someone you've never met.
In the early 1990s, I read a newspaper story about Mr. Rogers’ stint as the main guest speaker at the graduation ceremonies of some fancy Ivy League college back East. I smiled as I read that he was overwhelmingly chosen -- from among a rather large field of quite renowned and impressive possible candidates -- by the graduating students themselves.
However, because of the great affection that I felt for this man, as I read the story I distinctly remember also feeling a small, but palpable twinge of fear in my chest -- fear that perhaps this bored, jaded, favored, overly-educated, disenchanted slice of my generation had chosen him to speak at their college graduation as some supreme statement of kitsch, or even as an opportunity to poke fun at his tender, gentle ways in a very public forum.
When I got to the part about him walking to the podium to begin his speech -- in that purposeful, patient, and unhurried walk of his that we all know so well -- the protective concern that I was feeling instantly shifted into a sense of great pride, relief, and community. They hadn’t let me down.
And I began to weep. And I weep again, even now, just remembering it.
As Fred Rogers was introduced and began his walk to the microphone where he would address them, thousands of voices -- voices that were soon to take their place in positions of great power, leadership, erudition, and meaningful discourse in this nation – spontaneously and enthusiastically erupted into song; his song:
"It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor...
Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won't you be my neighbor?"
They hadn't invited him there to their hallowed halls to make fun of him at all. They had invited him there, with great reverence, to pay him tribute. He had -- one song, one smile, one loving word at a time -- been a part of each of their journeys to adulthood. They had asked him to be there, on this symbolic last day of their childhoods, because they loved him.
Those thousands of voices raised in song were a profound and heartfelt "thank you" for the many years that he gave them his kind, patient, and undivided attention. A voice that was there, everyday, even when parents or friends weren't. A voice that, to a tragic few, may have been the only loving and reassuring words they might hear all day.
I miss him, and his kindness...his cardigan and his sneakers...his calm, sweet voice and his silly puppets. But most of all, I miss his unfailing belief that all things are possible.
Because they are.
That simple, glimmering truth was his gift to us all.
Thank you, Mr. Rogers. This place isn't the same without you.