Arts & Entertainment

‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’ and a Cup of Coffee

Fred Rogers speaks to children on the first episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” on Feb. 19, 1968. – Courtesy photo / Fred Rogers Center

By Kathleen Z Snider

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” have you seen the documentary about Fred Rogers, Mr. Rogers to most? If you haven’t, DO. He was a man of ‘radical kindness,’ a phrase that comes up often when remembering him.

The first time I encountered “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” was with my own children.

My first thoughts? The sets were a bit cheesy, the puppets were simple and unsophisticated perhaps a little frayed and who was this man who wanted to be my neighbor changing into his Perry Como sweater and Top-Sider tennis shoes?

By the end of the first episode I saw his gift, felt it even. Yes, he tackled hard issues, went toe to toe with the darkness in the world but he also brought the light, all the while respecting children in a way that no other person or program on television had. Mr. Rogers never shied away from difficulties facing children or their joys.

I learned how crayons were made, how emotions were not to be feared, and how he liked me just the way I am.

“Love is the root of everything. All learning, all relationships. Love or the lack of it.”  Mr. Rogers was right about that.

Eventually, my own children moved on from Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. I’m not sure I ever did.

Those times when the exhaustion and isolation of motherhood colored my day were often lifted as I tuned into “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” while my children napped. I can visualize myself, coffee cup in hand, sitting on the couch, cueing up Mr. Rogers, relaxing, slowing down, and Mr. Rogers welcoming me into his world.

“Do you know how long a minute is?” He poses this question to the children watching. Setting a timer, he is silent for a minute, a full minute of silence on the screen. Surprising.

Mr. Rogers believed in goodness, kindness and acceptance. Enough said, right?

There are so many moments worth sharing but I don’t want to be a spoiler. Well, maybe just a little.

In the final moments of the film, those who were part of Mr. Roger’s world are asked to take one minute and silently remember a person who influenced their lives. In the silence, I found myself doing the same. The camera moves from face to face, co-workers from his show, his beloved wife Joanne, cellist Yo-Yo Ma who Fred helped learn to deal with fame becoming a lifelong friend, and many others. The interviewer asks each person who they were thinking about, moving to say the least.

I have to admit it. By the end of the film, I could barely hold back the tears. Mr. Rogers filled a space in the lives of many and truly changed the landscape of mine.

August 2, 2018

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