Growing up, when all my friends were watching the ‘cool TV shows,’ I was the one watching PBS. Frankly, a lot of the shows on other networks frightened me, while shows like The Bernstein Bears or Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood were much more my beat. I connected to Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood because things seemed slower and kinder, unlike the typical roster of shows that involved people being pushed around or having pies thrown in their face.
When I heard about the Mr. Roger’s Documentary, I can’t express how glad I was that all of the work that he had done was being noted. I knew that seeing it had to be a special occasion and my best friend did, too. As we settled into our movie theater seats with a big bucket of popcorn, we were not prepared for all of the tiny heart pangs we would feel throughout the movie, culminating into really big tears falling down both of our faces. In a time where everything feels divided, Mr. Rogers shows us a better way. He believed that the most deeply spiritual thing that he could do was to love his neighbor as his self, and he put this into practice by not only treating every child and adult with dignity and love, but also by letting his neighborhood act as a metaphor for what was going on in the world. At a time when African Americans were being harassed and terrorized at public pools, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood showed Officer Clemmons, an African American man, drop by for a visit on a hot, summer day– one where Mr. Roger’s happened to be washing his feet in a small pool. Mr. Roger’s asks Officer Clemmons if he would like to join him, and Clemmons accepts. While today this is an ordinary gesture, pools used to be yet another battleground for hate and racial segregation. Under Jim Crow law, not only did black and whites have to swim at different times, but many pools were completely off limits to blacks. It reminds me a lot of one of my favorite Mr. Roger’s quotes which says, ‘the values we care about the deepest, and the movements within society that support those values, command our love. When those things that we care about so deeply become endangered, we become enraged. And what a healthy thing that is! Without it, we would never stand up and speak out for what we believe.”
If Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood taught me anything, it’s that we’re all special regardless of what we do or produce, and that love isn’t passive or stationary. Love is action– making conscious choices to make the world better. As Ann Lamott puts it, don’t let them get you to hate them. Love and genuine kindness isn’t sitting back and hoping things go well for the world, but rather it is doing what we can, with what we have, to make our homes and neighborhoods and worlds better and kinder and more accepting of everyone’s true and whole self.
“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like “struggle.” To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” – Mr. Rogers