My son and I have been watching old episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood lately. It’s much easier than I realized to get engrossed in the land of make-believe and film footage of the crayon factory as an adult. But it’s even easier to rest in Fred’s compassion.
“He seems like a question answerer, conscious child idea conceiver Carl Sagan,” said Declan, looking for (and finding) the right words.
The man understood how hard it can be to be a person, especially a child. That’s been tough work for us lately, so I’m glad to be parenting in a digital age that can take us back in time.
Whether he was singing about liking people for true reasons, or his daily celebration of the fact that we’re alive and growing inside, he had this way of creating safety and space. Even though he has passed, I’m amazed to see that the shows still hold that power for my son.
In one episode, someone in the land of make-believe had invented a machine that could see into people, see something true about them, like the warmth of their heart or their love of chair-making.
When it was over, and the camera began panning above Mr. Roger’s colorful neighborhood houses and toy cars, Declan snuggled his face into my neck and pretended to look into me.
“There is lots and lots and lots of love,” he said. “And lots and lots of art, writing especially. Buddhism. The ocean. Me.”
He stopped, leaned back, and smiled at that thought for a moment. Then he snuggled back in and continued.
“All the art you’ve ever seen in museums. All the music you’ve ever listened to. Not just me but everybody you’ve ever known or loved. All the trees and flowers you’ve ever seen or smelled. All the places you’ve lived. Dogs and dolphins and other animals you loved. Blue sky. Clouds. Rain. Storms. Hurricanes. Your reflections.”
“Yes – both kinds. The ones you’ve actually seen and.. your thoughts.”
And that one. That one from my son, inspired by Fred Rogers. That’s a reflection I want to keep forever.
More Fred, because even if you think you outgrew him, you didn’t:
His touching 1969 Senate hearing testimony in defense of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which includes his reading of “What do you do with the mad that you feel?”
You can watch or listen to most of his songs on the PBS web site.
Fred’s goodbye on his final program, which is especially sweet for parents who grew up watching him.