I was sitting on the plane, holding back tears.
I'm not one for crying in public but this time I was afraid I was gonna completely lose it. Mr. Rogers was going to make me cry.
I had never really watched his show. I have vague recollections as a very little kid but mostly I just knew him as an old guy with a show on PBS. (and the premier badass in The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny)
I picked up a copy of "I'm Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers" by Tim Madigan before I got on the plane. I had completely forgotten to bring any reading material with me for the plane ride and I wasn't going to suffer one more Cosmo quiz or mail order catolog. It was pretty much on a whim and I thought I would probably read another one of my selections before I would crack that book. I ended up finishing it on the plane. The author is a newspaper writer who, at the time of meeting Fred, was in the middle of a life crisis. Meeting Fred Rogers for a news story would change his life in the most amazing ways. He was lost and with Fred's guidance and understanding, he found his way again.
I was a little put off at first that Fred was a Presbyterian minister. I didn't need to be preached to and I know G-d so thanks but no thanks... but I was wrong. I have been jaded by people cramming their religions down my throat that I just assume that a minister is going to do it to...Fred wasn't like that. When he said, "God loves you just the way you are.", he meant it. He always spoke of tolerance. When others would try to provoke him into bashing the non-christians or homosexuals or anyone who the fundamentalists didn't like, he would still come back with tolerance and even acceptance and at all times, love.
It wasn't an act. He really was that kind. He really cared about people. He really was interested in the people he spoke with. He was patient, thoughtful and pardon the corniness, but he was true blue. Children can spot a fake. Perhaps this is why he was so beloved. From the tiniest kid to the surliest adult, Mr. Rogers held a soft spot in most of us.
In one of my favorite stories, Fred drove to work in his older model Impala, parked in front of the studio and went in to work. When he came out, it was gone. Supposedly, tons of radio stations and TV and newspapers picked up the story. The thieves brought back the car with a note that said, "If we knew it was yours, we never would have taken it. Sorry." Now, I have not found ANY reliable source about this and being that I was still in elementary school at the time it was supposed to have occurred, I can't really tell you myself. Never the less, it's a sweet story and totally within the realms of reality.
I wish I could be like him. I wish I could be so open to mere strangers. I wish I could reach out to people and tell them, "I don't know who you are but I love you because we are all in this together. Don't be sad; you are not alone" just like he did.
Years ago, some idiot suggested that this generation of lazy, self entitled, self esteem whores who are unprepared for the real world were created by Mr. Roger's show. I want to punch that idiot in the groin. Who loved factories and visits from the workers around him more than Mr. Rogers? Who profiled the people who worked at the bottling plant or how a mail room works? What other children's show, beside Seasame Street, helped kids cope with death, divorce and illness? Mr. Roger's Neighborhood is more in the real world than almost ANY children's shows on today.
I cried because he was so understanding and selfless. I cried because when Mr. Rogers spoke to Tim, it was if he was speaking to me. And I cried because even though he never knew me, even though I barely watched his show, even though I have done so many not nice things, I knew he was proud of me too. That's just the kind of guy he was. Don't you wish he was your neighbor? I sure as hell do.
So if you happen to have a 2 hour plane ride and need something to make you cry and freak out the Portuguese woman next to you, please read this book. Or just read it, even if you don't have those circumstances. It's a good book.