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I still recall the egg falling to the floor in slow motion.
And another on my head from the refrigerator shelf above, if I remember correctly.
It was a mess.
A sticky, gooey, eggy mess.
Thankfully, I have a very patient and understanding mom, and we cleaned up the pieces — from the floor, from my nightgown, from my hair.
“I was trying to make something yummy like Chef Brockett,” I explained. And somehow, I was certain that eggs and powdered sugar would do the trick.
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was a staple of my childhood. And it influenced me more than I even realized.
And I learned that Chef Brockett’s treats require more than eggs and powdered sugar.
But even now that I’m several decades removed from my time spent in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, and Fred Rogers himself has been gone from this earth for 15 years, I’ve found that I’m still learning from Mr. Rogers.
I may have been the last person in the world to watch the documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”. After a crazy summer caused me to miss it in the theaters, I finally grabbed it when it released on DVD.
My older boys will tell you I was crying, but it’s only because they were watching it with me that I wasn’t full-out bawling.
The documentary is a beautiful reminder of the gentleness, kindness, and selflessness that Fred Rogers extended to the world. I was drawn in by nostalgia, but walked away feeling inspired to change the future. I was looking for the Mr. Rogers I remembered, but was surprised to find little pieces of myself awakened; pieces I hadn’t even realized he had put there years and years before.
Not long after watching the documentary, I picked up the biography, “The Good Neighbor“, by Maxwell King.
(In full disclosure, I actually listened to it in Audible. That’s how I do a lot of my “reading”, and I certainly couldn’t resist when I found that it was read by LeVar Burton. Nostalgia times two? Yes, please.)
If you enjoyed the documentary but also wanted to know more, this is the book for you. Spanning his whole life, from his birth in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, to his last days and the continued ripple felt beyond his passing, this is the story of a life exceptionally lived.
As I’ve been thinking about Mr. Rogers and his life and his influence, I’ve found that there are many new lessons and concepts, which he was always teaching, but that I’m finally learning — or learning again. I’ve come to realize he wasn’t just teaching me how to be as a child, but how to be a good grown up too.
5 Lessons I Learned from Mr. Rogers About Being a Grown-Up
It’s not about you.
Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me. ”
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood aired for over 30 years, and Fred Rogers passed away 15 years ago, but the first biography of this iconic figure was written only this year. Though that wasn’t for a lack of trying. Many attempts were made during Mr. Rogers’ life to begin the project of writing a biography. But Mr. Rogers always declined, saying he didn’t want it to detract from the children and the work that needed to be done in their behalf.
Subsequently, when his family was asked about a biography after his death, they too felt that it would be better not to, in order to keep the focus on the children and the work.
It wasn’t until Maxwell King pressed them, emphasizing the need to record and preserve Fred Roger’s legacy that they finally acquiesced….and challenged King to write that same biography he had so passionately argued for.
Mr. Rogers always showed that it wasn’t about him. It wasn’t about becoming famous. It wasn’t about getting attention. It wasn’t about looking cool.
It was about helping the children. Always.
And not a self-serving kind of help either. It wasn’t about helping children to read at 3 so he could pat himself on the back. It wasn’t helping children to manage their emotions so that grown-ups could make it through the day unencumbered. It was about helping children to be healthy, happy, whole. For the sake of the child.
Because to him, that was everything.
Remember what it was like to be a child.
The child is in me still and sometimes not so still.”
On several occasions– when consulting new hires or giving advice to parents –Fred Rogers reminded grown-ups that the best thing they could do was simply remember what it was like to be a child.
To be uncertain. To be excited. To be confused. To be overwhelmed. To be in awe of simple things. To be broken-hearted about something seemingly trivial, like a popped balloon or a lost toy.
To want those questions answered, those feelings validated, and those worries taken seriously.
Mr. Rogers reminds us as grown-ups to really hear children and to connect them with our own inner child.
This advice not only serves us when connecting with a child’s emotion, but also in channeling their whimsy and wonder.
I was struck by how many times contributors in The Good Neighbor referred to Fred’s “whimsy”. What an absolutely delightful trait to possess. He took his job very seriously, but he knew that the serious work of childhood is play.
Be present. Be real.
The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”
Another recurring theme in the book and in the movie was Fred Rogers’ authenticity. He didn’t play Mr. Rogers, he WAS Mr. Rogers. And he showed up as his full self every time.
He lived right in the moment, attending to the person right in front of him. Whether that was the child on the other side of the screen, the child right in front of him, or the many grown-ups he inspired as well.
No matter what they brought to the table — a hard question, a hard feeling, a hard request — Fred Rogers showed up.
He never brushed a child’s question aside. He believed that, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.”
Whether the child’s concern was with bodily functions, assassinations, war, divorce, or death, Mr. Rogers was willing to listen and to share. Fully present. Unashamed.
Find any old video footage of Fred Rogers interacting with a child. (Or even with an adult.) Through his body language, through his facial expressions, through his proximity, in everything about him, he was always absolutely committed. Fully there. Completely authentic.
He lived his own wisdom: “We get so wrapped up in numbers in our society. The most important thing is that we are able to be one-to-one, you and I with each other at the moment. If we can be present to the moment with the person that we happen to be with, that’s what’s important.”
Remember that you’re special. I like you just the way you are.
When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”
I don’t question for one second that Fred Rogers believed every word he said about the inherent value and uniqueness of each person. And yet, even the incomparable Mr. Rogers was not immune to self-doubt.
In a 1979 memo to himself, he wrote:
“Am I kidding myself that I’m able to write a script again? Am I really just whistling Dixie? I wonder. If I don’t get down to it I’ll never really know. Why can’t I trust myself? Really that’s what it’s all about…that and not wanting to go through the agony of creation. AFTER ALL THESE YEARS IT’S JUST AS BAD AS EVER. I wonder if every creative artist goes through the tortures of the damned trying to create. Oh, well, the hour cometh and now IS when I’ve got to do it. GET TO IT, FRED. GET TO IT… But don’t let anybody ever tell anybody else that it was easy. It wasn’t.”
I can’t imagine if Fred Rogers had given into those doubts.
I can’t imagine if he had decided not to dream of doing something new and different from the very beginning. Or if he had let go of that vision and acquiesced to the mutated, commercialized versions of his life’s work that many companies and stations proposed to him.
I can’t imagine if he had decided to play it safe. To avoid all the tough topics. To shy away from his efforts of inclusion. To try to fit a mold.
Mr. Rogers reminds me — reminds all of us — that there’s still something “down deep inside” that we have to offer. In spite of our fears. In spite of our doubts. He reminds us to find it. To hold on to it. To share it.
There are three ways to ultimate success:
The first way is to be kind.
The second way is to be kind.
The third way is to be kind.”
If there was one lesson Mr. Rogers taught, preached, exemplified, and lived, it was love. Completely unconditional love. Simply by “being you”. By being alive. By existing, you — and everyone around you — is worthy of love. And with that, comes the obligation for each of us to show it.
Can you imagine a world where we all understood that and lived that as Mr. Rogers did?
When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong with the fearful, the true mixed in with the façade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way.”
This unconditional love wasn’t just extended through the screen to his adorable television “neighbors”. It was there for the attendant at his community gym. It was there for the homeless man on the street. (To whom he spoke at length while a high-powered TV executive waited for him.) It was there for every person with whom he interacted. He could spend a few happenchance minutes in an elevator with a stranger, and by the time they reached the lobby, they would have made a deep, authentic connection.
Fred Rogers’ life story is an inspiring record of selfless service and genuine love of others. He knew from his life’s work– a work deeply rooted in developmental theory, music, and religion — that all disciplines pointed to the same end and sprang from the same source. Love.