Recently I have made several references to Fred Rogers, or as we all know him, Mister Rogers, our neighbor. The renewed curiosity began in December when I walked into our hotel room after working out to find Ryan sitting on the bed perfectly calm, mesmerized, and blackberry-laptop free watching Mister Rogers.
I thought it was a joke.
Sometimes I watch Sesame Street or pop in an old Care Bears movie out of nostalgia, but these moments are short lived, I become bored quickly, and realize that Sesame Street is not all it was cracked up to be when I was five; no grown up can really watch this show and be moved (except maybe to insanity).
But Ryan was not watching in a moment of nostalgia...he was really watching the show just to watch it, he was hooked. I sat down by him too and started to watch and all of a sudden a million memories flooded my mind. This is the man that soothed my soul for years. Sort of like a dad. A friend. The person I could tell my secrets to and my emotions. This man taught me new words, he helped me think, and taught me to be nice and how to love, and he sang songs about being mad and being sad. Watching him now was no different and no less compelling. He spoke with a calmness and steadiness that quieted my heart. There was something beautiful in him that brought out the beauty in others. And we sat there, both of us, watching Mister Rogers for three episodes straight.
Who was this man? A saint? A really good actor? A creep? I needed to know. I searched for a biography with little luck until I stumbled upon the book The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers by Amy Hollingsworth. A woman who developed an unexpected and deep spiritual friendship with Fred and has written about what he taught her over the course of their intimate relationship.
So if you can get past the fact that you are actually sitting down to read about Mister Rogers what you find is a beautiful man who literally enchanted children and adults for thirty years with truth, love, dignity, self-worth, and an array of ways to deal with our very real and very valid emotions. You will find a scholar, a poet, a songwriter, a husband, friend, a spirit that seemed to collide so much with Christ that they seemed very much the same. And all of this, thirty years, without ever pushing his spirituality on others, but simply living as himself and letting his actions speak for him and for his Savior.
On a particularly hard day last week I was reading the chapter called The Best Gift: Your honest self. Fred said, "I just figured that the best gift you could offer anybody is your honest self, and that's what I've done for lots of years. And thanks for accepting me exactly as I am."
It went on to say that Fred wanted every child to know they had unique value and that no one in the whole world was exactly like them and no one ever would be and how special that made them.
And here I am in Barnes and Noble tears streaming down my face just wanting a hug from this neighbor who told me when I was little and was telling me now again, 22 years later, that I was loved and special and that my "honest self" (which lately feels pretty flawed and broken) is beautiful and unique. And that he is still my neighbor. What a beautiful man.
A simple book. Easy read. Sometimes a bit corny. But truly profound. He possessed a divine sense of peace and purpose, drawing in both children and adults. If you want to relish your childhood and get a look at how Christ can truly indwell a person and use that for his glory to change millions of children...this is a book for you. Trust me, you will be aching to see the show after you finish, just to get a taste of what peace on earth can look like, feel like, smell like, and taste like. Mister Rogers embodied it. I am grateful that he loved me and that we children were drawn to such a man. This visit to the neighborhood was a much needed Sabbath for my busy, grown-up life.