I probably should have started on the grits earlier, and I had planned to, but the PBS affiliate here was showing "Won't You Be My Neighbor" and I really wanted to watch it. (At first I thought: "I'll watch the bit about the early years of the show, and then duck out to the kitchen and prep the grits" but I got completely involved with it). I think I need to see it again but some things struck me:
- How YOUNG Mr. Rogers looked when he first started the show. Like, he looked like he was in his early 30s. (I don't know how old he actually was). And you know, I think he almost had a little bit of a Jimmy Stewart quality about him - that sort of quiet, middle-American thing. (Though I think Stewart had a few roles where he was perhaps not as clean-cut, and of course he played characters who could get angry).
- At one point they showed the "old" PBS logo-promo thing that was used in the 1970s:
And WOW was that a memory jolt for me. I hadn't seen that in years but for a brief moment I was six or eight or ten again, and watching something on PBS. (I've talked before about the old-school "local" educational shows - each large market had a few; there were some that originated in Cleveland and we used to watch them. I liked them. I remember when I would be home sick from school - I got lots of respiratory things as a kid, and had walking pneumonia a couple times - that was what I'd watch. Well, partly, we didn't have cable, but also, I *liked* the shows. Even when I was older than the target audience.)
- They played the episode where he washed Officer Clemmons' feet - apparently it was done back in the late 60s, and then a re-do of it was done much later on.
- I think the whole "Preach the Gospel always; if necessary, use words" thing is one of the things about Mr. Rogers that resonates with me. I didn't notice it as a kid, but as a grown-up person whose faith informs her life - well, seeing some of those clips REALLY struck me as "here is a man who understood his faith on a deep level and strove to practice it with an authenticity few people achieve."
- I bet Mr. Rogers wouldn't have liked social media much. And I also think he might have taken a dim view of the trend to cut people from your life, or "cancel" the work of famous people if their attitudes don't agree 100% with yours - or being unforgiving of past mistakes. (I wonder if we are becoming more rigidly unforgiving as a culture, and again, as someone who was and still is a Christian, I think very much of that line in the Lord's Prayer about forgiving our debts as we forgive our debtors, and how a minister once commented that what we are literally saying there is we only wish God to forgive us as much as we forgive others, and well, that's kind of scary)
- Apparently he really was as good a person as he seemed to be. Despite all the attempts to cut him down or to find something wrong with him. And it's almost....a little startling, or a little humbling, to think about that.
- His wife looks to me just like I expected she would look, and I mean that in a good way.
- I was struck by the commentary that Daniel Tiger was perhaps the character the most like him. (Apparently he had been somewhat bullied as a child). And that Daniel often doubted, often felt he was unlovable or a "mistake" and again that's something that resonates; I think a lot of kids worry about that. (And a lot of adults, for that matter).
(Huh. And when you think of it: Daniel essentially suffered from what we call "impostor syndrome" now)
- How he won over Senator Pastore, who wanted to cut PBS funding, but then he recited the lyrics to the song about "What do you do with the mad that you feel" and it apparently totally changed the guy's mind.
- Two parts made me cry. One I had heard before: towards the end of his life, he asked his wife if she thought he had been a "sheep" (In the Matthew 25 sense, as a faithful follower and one who did unto the least of the people as they would have done unto Jesus). And that just strikes me....that if anyone (as his widow said) was a sheep, it was him, and yet, he still worried.
- The other part that got me was when they were using, as a voice-over, something from a graduation speech he gave, about taking a minute to reflect on people who were important to you, and how they wanted what was best in life for you. I don't think this is the exact same material as from the voice-over, but this is from one of his graduation speeches, in the same spirit:
I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away. Some, like my astronomy professor, may even be in heaven. But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside your self. And I feel that you deserve quiet time, on this special occasion, to devote some thought to them. So, let’s just take a minute, in honor of those that have cared about us all along the way. One silent minute...Whomever you’ve been thinking about, imagine how grateful they must be, that during your silent times, you remember how important they are to you. It’s not the honors and the prizes, and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted. That we never have to fear the truth. That the bedrock of our lives, from which we make our choices, is very good stuff.
- And some of the misinterpretation of him makes me a little angry - they showed some news program talking about how his insistence on each individual being "special" without doing any "hard work" to earn it led to a culture of narcissistic wimps, and the thing is, the thing is.....one of the fundamental bedrocks of Christianity (and also Judaism, and I suspect also Islam and perhaps other world religions I know even less about) is that each individual has dignity and meaning....in other words, they ARE special. And I would argue having to "earn" the right to be "special" enough to exist....well, that's a slippery slope, then, where people start talking about "useless eaters" and the like, and we do not want to go there.
The other thing is: if I am special but you are also special, because (as Rogers doubtless believed) we are children of God, that also puts an obligation on me to treat you with respect, as well as on you to treat me with respect. It's not any kind of "I can sit back and let people kiss my feet," it's more of a... I don't know...more of a "We're all in this together."
I mean, there's the "special" in the sense of being demanding and thinking yourself MORE special than other people, and that's bad. But then there's a different special, the numinous understanding that we all matter - and I would add, the hope that *we're here for a reason.* I mean, I could be wrong. This could all be a giant anomaly or hoax or mistake or illusion, but I really really want to believe I'm here for a reason - and I try to act like it. And in a sort of Pascal's wager way, maybe if I *behave* like I'm here for a reason, then, even if I wasn't, somehow it turns out I was? I don't know. And even if there is no reason, I'd never necessarily know that, and if I live my life as if I was put here for some purpose, I will have lived a better life - and probably have been happier - than if I had not.I dunno. Sometimes I think a lot of the silly dunking-on and scoring-points that takes place in news commentary requires a shutting-off of a part of the mind or the heart, or a willful misunderstanding of some of the more meaningful things in life.
- They briefly showed the fact that WBC (I won't out and out name them, but some may know the initials) protested across from his funeral. Allegedly, I guess, it was because he "tolerated" François Clemmons (who was gay) on his show, though I think really the reason those people do anything is to get attention and to hope they get denied access, so they can try suing. But still, frustrating to see.
- I wonder if we will see another person in the public eye like him again, or if our culture has gotten to the point where someone like that would be utterly hounded out of the public eye for being too quiet, or too "square," or too whatever. I know some people say they were "creeped out" by the way he spoke but you know? I never felt that way. Maybe it was because I had some relatives who spoke slowly and quietly in that way, and who would sit and listen intently when someone else spoke.