The real Mr. Rogers

I grew up lov­ing said jour­nal­ist An­thony Brezni­can. But it wasn’t un­til I had a chance en­counter with Fred Rogers as an adult that I re­al­ized the char­ac­ter he played on TV wasn’t fake.

The Week (US) - - 36 -

I WAS PUTTING my 4-year-old son to bed one night this past May and scrolling through the news in the dark, find­ing only more dark­ness be­yond. The hor­ror and heart­break of the bomb­ing in Manch­ester, Eng­land, were un­fold­ing. Amid the fear and un­cer­tainty, I saw count­less in­stances of self­less­ness and unity—peo­ple wel­com­ing strangers into their homes, taxi driv­ers help­ing fam­i­lies get away from the scene, fam­i­lies reach­ing out to find loved ones who hadn’t an­swered their phones (of­ten find­ing them scared but safe). Threaded through­out these mes­sages, I saw one meme be­ing shared and re­shared. It was some­thing Fred Rogers once said, ad­vice for par­ents try­ing to find a way to talk about vi­o­lence and tragedy with young chil­dren. The photo of him is ac­com­pa­nied by these words: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will al­ways find peo­ple who are help­ing.’ To this day, es­pe­cially in times of disas­ter, I re­mem­ber my mother’s words, and I am al­ways com­forted by re­al­iz­ing that there are still so many helpers—so many car­ing peo­ple in this world.” Some won­der if he really said this. Of­ten quotes on­line that seem too per­fect to be true are ex­actly that. But no, Mr. Rogers really said it. He said it of­ten. Then I scrolled a lit­tle fur­ther and found this tweet. 10:21 AM — May 22, 2017 On this day in 1967, a show fea­tur­ing a kindly man in a cardi­gan & blue sneak­ers de­buted on public tele­vi­sion— #Mis­terRoger­sNeigh­bor­hood. Dr. Paul @DrPny­gard The date’s a lit­tle off. (He recorded the first episode of Mis­ter Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hood on Sept. 27, 1967, and it aired na­tion­ally in Fe­bru­ary 1968.) But that no­tion of 50 years hit me hard. And it stirred up a mem­ory of him from long ago. Fred Rogers was from Pitts­burgh, my home­town, and I’m a mem­ber of just one gen­er­a­tion that grew up lov­ing this man, who taught us to be kind above all and see our­selves as spe­cial and good, no mat­ter what the world tried to tell us to the con­trary. When I got older, I learned first­hand that Fred Rogers was the real thing. That gen­tle soul? It was no act. Mis­ter Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hood ran un­til 2001, but I lost touch with it as I got older. That’s how it goes. But in col­lege, one day, I re­dis­cov­ered it, just when I needed it. I was hav­ing a hard time then. The fu­ture seemed hope­less. I was strug­gling, lonely, deal­ing with a lot of bro­ken pieces within my­self, and not ad­just­ing well. I was a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh but felt rud­der­less. I wanted to be a writer but re­ceived noth­ing but dis­cour­age­ment from home. Nev­er­the­less, I de­voted ev­ery­thing I had to the school pa­per, The Pitt News, hop­ing that would pro­pel me into some kind of worth­while ca­reer and fu­ture. It seemed just as likely that I’d fall on my face and end up nowhere. On top of that, I was grap­pling with a loss that I couldn’t talk about, partly be­cause I had no one I could talk to. One span of time in win­ter of 1996 was es­pe­cially bad. I was an­gry, alone, un­happy. But walk­ing out of the dorm one morn­ing, I heard fa­mil­iar mu­sic in the hall­way: “Won’t you be my neigh­bor?...” The TV was play­ing in an empty com­mon room, tuned to WQED (which was Mr. Rogers’ home sta­tion). And there he was— the sweatered one, feed­ing his fish, check­ing in with that lit­tle trol­ley that rolled through the wall into the Neigh­bor­hood of Make-Be­lieve, and ask­ing me what I do with the mad that I feel. (I had lots to spare. Still do.) It feels silly to say—it felt silly then—but I stood mes­mer­ized. His show felt like a cool hand on a hot head. I never sat down, but I watched the whole thing. After­ward, I left feel­ing...bet­ter. S EV­ERAL DAYS LATER, I got in the el­e­va­tor at the pa­per to ride down to the lobby of the Wil­liam Pitt Union. The doors opened, and who was stand­ing there but Mr. Rogers. For real. I thought I was hal­lu­ci­nat­ing for a mo­ment. But there he stood—a slim, old man in a big coat and scarf, eyes twin­kling be­hind his glasses, a small case clasped be­tween his hands in front of him. I stepped aboard the el­e­va­tor, star­ing, and

Mr. Rogers: A neigh­bor to all his young view­ers

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