People told me to be careful, tattoos can be addicting … I’ve already got my next one planned, something to do with kindness.
I’ve been in the pursuit of kindness and happiness and peace all my life, so it seems quite natural to me to promote that in a way that might spark conversation. Even though I’ve been accused in my lifetime of being “fake” because I smile so much. Even though an old boyfriend maintained my “default-mode” was “happiness” like it was an annoying thing. Just like some people felt Mr. Rogers had to be anything but what he presented on television.
It may come as no surprise that Fred Rogers was one of my heroes.
Indoctrinated when my little sister originally tuned in back probably 1969 or 1970, even at the age of 10 or 11, I was smitten with his gentle, caring voice and the Land of Make Believe. Having challenges at home with an abusive and confusing father, I appreciated this positive role model beyond words. How excited I was to go and see a movie about him recently, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
I’ve long seen video clips of Rogers saving Public Broadcasting from the budgetary axe by presenting how important it was to give children a safe place to watch and learn compassion, how to deal with feelings, etc., that they may become healthy, fruitful citizens. The senators not only gave PBS funding but eventually upped it from 9 million to 22 million.
He was an ordained Presbyterian minister but never preached or infiltrated scripts with directly religious overtones. Rather, he spoke from the heart, from the true origin of spirituality — with love, for love, about love and love of yourself and others. “It’s all about love,” he said in this film.
The film had countless candid shots of Fred behind the scenes in production of his series, being as funny, gentle and kind there as he was on camera.
And, yes, he was the butt of many jokes and parodies. “As long as the jokes didn’t poke fun at the heart of his mission, to teach children kindness, it was fine, “said, his wife Joanne Rogers. “Sometimes they weren’t so funny.”
I know. I laughed at Eddie Murphy’s rendition on Saturday Night Live but, somewhere inside, I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t recognize it then, but I do now.
A very good movie for many reasons, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” highlighted his success in children’s television programming and off screen. It also pointed out how his shows were each written to help children navigate the scary world out there in ways not every parent was/is equipped to do, with sensitivity to young peoples’ perspectives and helping them find words to understand. Yet so many in the world at large could not believe him.
“He was just acting.”
“Oh, that slow, sappy voice of his was like nails scratching on a chalkboard!”
“I thought he was a Navy Seal who killed several people!”
“Dammit, I believed him that the world was supposed to be kind and supportive and I’m mad as hell because it’s not! I hold him responsible!”
“He couldn’t possibly be like that off camera.”
Those comments were just from people I know! The comments and scenarios presented in the film brought me to tears.
Rogers died in 2003 of stomach cancer. He had received every award possible in television, 40 honorary degrees from various colleges and a Peabody Award. He received 50 to 100 letters a day from children to which he personally responded. He was cherished by so many but not all were fans.
Over his career, they showed headlines and talk shows slaying Rogers for promoting “you’re special just the way you are!” as the reason for the generation’s sense of entitlement. Really? Somebody didn’t get it — “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,” Fred had explained.
Worst of all, at his memorial attended by almost 3,000 people, a hate rally took up right across the street with signs of malice toward Rogers. I began to sob in the movie theater. Because Mr. Rogers never spoke out against gays (there is a scene in the movie where he grapples with this subject), this group, including small children, shouted horrible things. It was headed by Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church. Later, Phelps would go on to say that “Rogers gave aid and comfort to homosexuals. … His syrupy teachings led millions astray. He was a wuss, and he was an enabler of wusses.”
A friend of mine shared what her mom used to say, “God created everyone, so why can’t we just believe him?”
And, in light of the mistrust people may have had of me over the years or the disbelief in someone so kind and good as Mr. Rogers, I continue to believe that love is still the way, that in the end that is what will see us through.
Especially in this day of epic levels of disrespect, uncaring, hateful, moral-less, violent behaviors, we need to be even more open to listening, like Rogers did, to find out what is really going on. To not jump to judgment. To fully understand our fears. Why is it so very hard to believe in something good, someone good? Think about that…
So, “Kindness Heals” may be challenging, but, I believe in it enough to have it permanently become a part of my skin.