Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Mister Rogers Who Saw Us

This New York Times article about Fred Rogers is a beautiful portrait of a beautiful human being, written by a person who had the great good fortune to be a co-worker and a close family friend.

When I was a child we didn't have a television. But I was able to occasionally watch Mister Rogers' Neighborhood at a friend's house. I was skeptical. I remember hating Lady Elaine. She was scary and ugly, and she had my name. I didn't like that. I remember having a hard time trusting Mister Rogers, and remember wondering how a grown-up person could be so, well, nice. I confess that I had little to do with "the neighborhood" during my childhood. My cousins liked Mister Rogers very much. I just didn't trust grown-ups who were nice.

But when I grew up and became a parent, Fred Rogers became a fixture in our house. Michael always liked him, and through the experience of raising children with Michael, I learned to trust Mister Rogers. Then, once I started watching his operas, I started to love Mister Rogers. Perhaps it was a little late, but I was able to benefit from the experience of knowing Mister Rogers through the television during a kind of second childhood: the one I was living with my children. Better late than never, right?

From this article I now understand that he was making his show for grown-ups as well as for children. How many of us grown-ups can relate to this:
“It’s so very hard, receiving,” he said. “When you give something, you’re in much greater control. But when you receive something, you’re so vulnerable.

“I think the greatest gift you can ever give is an honest receiving of what a person has to offer.”
or this:
“I think that the need to create has to do with a gap,” he said. “A gap between what is and what might be. Or what you’d like to be. I think that the need to create is the need to bridge that gap. And I do believe it’s a universal need. Unless there is somebody out there who feels that what is, is also what might be.

“I don’t know anybody who has complete satisfaction with everything. Do you?”
or this:
“There are those of us who have been deprived of human confidence. Those who have not been able to develop the conviction that they have anything of value within. Their gap is rather a chasm. And they most often despair of creating any bridges to the land of what might be. They were not accepted as little children. … They were never truly loved by any important human other. … And so it seems to me that the most essential element in the development of any creation, any art or science, must be love. A love that begins with the simple expressions of care for a little child.

“When people help us to feel good about who we are, they are really helping us to love the meaning of what we create.”
and this:
“It’s so hard, isn’t it?” he said. “I think there are many people who bring a whole lot of baggage from their past and a whole lot of anxiety about the future to the present moment. What’s so great is that people can be in relationship with each other for the now.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“If we can somehow rid ourselves of illusions,” he said. “The illusion that we are greater or lesser than we are. The illusion that we’re going to save the world. There are a lot of illusions that people walk around with. I would love to be able to be present in every moment I have.”

I have been working on a post about seeing and being seen (and heard and being heard), and in it I mention that images we see on television are not seeing us. But maybe Fred Rogers is different. Maybe he was seeing us: a greater, needier, truly collective "us," and, maybe, by doing so he was teaching that "us" to learn to trust that there is goodness in the world.


I'm just leaving this bit of Fred Rogers here to watch after reading the article:

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