Last night, Thanksgiving evening, I relaxed on the couch with my turkey sandwich and watched the documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” Especially in this political climate, the perfect way to end the day of gratitude.
And so, with the new release of “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” I believe this writing to be timely.
Little did I know that on a special day in November 1993 (note fanny pack and hairstyle) I would unexpectedly be invited into Mr. Rogers’ world.
I was attending an early childhood conference in Anaheim, CA and decided to bring my mother along for a little getaway. Mr. Rogers would be the keynote speaker that evening.
That morning, Mom and I cruised the giant exhibit/presentation hall. That’s when I heard the familiar voice – not through the television, not through a microphone, but behind me.
Rounding the partition, I found the man himself speaking with David, his assistant. I suppose they were discussing setups for the evening’s presentation.
Thrilled beyond reason to meet a man who cared deeply about the well-being of children, I introduced myself – told him about being a director of a child development center, about being a mom, and thanked him for his continuing service to children. Then, in his gentle way with words, he thanked me.
That’s when my mother said, “I’m just the grandmother.”
Mr. Rogers’ eyes widened. He spoke to Mom for a while about the importance of grandparents in the lives of young children. She stood a little taller. It was as if he knew she needed to hear those words.
“Mr. Rogers,” I said. “I so wish I would have brought my camera along to show the kids at my center.” (This was before iPhone and digital cameras)
“Oh, that’s all right,” he said, and turned to his assistant. “David, can we borrow yours?”
After David took our photo, Mr. Rogers added, “Now a picture with grandmother.” (It is one of my favorite photos of my beaming mother)
After the photo op, Mr. Rogers asked David to please send the pictures to me. I received them within a week.
The speech he gave that night was, no surprises here, about love. It was also about the importance of inspiring children by showing them the things you love to do – reading, playing an instrument, singing, etc. – anything that may encourage their sense of wonder.
On a shuttle from the conference back to the hotel, attendees were buzzing about Mr. Rogers. Here’s an amazing account from another person who had an encounter with Mr. Rogers.
(paraphrasing) “Years ago, my four-year-old daughter and I ran into Mr. Rogers at the airport where he sat eating an ice cream cone. My daughter ran up to him. As he spoke to her, I assumed he felt a bit guilty for eating ice cream in front of her because he asked if she wanted a taste. So,” she told us on the bus, “I ran up to him at the conference and told him how my daughter never forgot that day at the airport. And do you know what he said? He said, ‘And how is Elaine?'”
Mr. Rogers had remembered that little girls name.
Today, I wish the politicians who bully and berate others could have a healthy dose of “Mr. Rogers.” Because, what they don’t understand is this – the children are listening. Are these the behaviors we want engrained in our youth?
When I think back on that special day in 1993, I try harder to focus on kindness. And when I do? I stand a little taller.
“There are three ways to ultimate success. The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” – Fred Rogers
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
He was alone, crying in his hospital crib.
Carefully manipulating the foreign attachments to his body – one feeding tube and a blood pressure line attached to his ankle, the IV taped and secured to his right arm, I picked him up.
I sat on a small couch, my back to the window, the three month old baby on my lap facing me. Through his gurgled wheezing, he looked at me, this stranger in Child Life volunteer garb.
I told him many things; about how I was glad his surgery was over; how he sounded better than the week before. I perched him on my shoulder so he could look outside and told him the sun was shining but the air had a nip of cold attached to it. He whimpered at the new position.
I settled him back on my lap.
We talked about how it’s not always fun to be alone, how we need to be understood and cuddled sometime. I told him he had a lot of growing to do, a lot of people to meet, about the new adventures yet to come.
I looked into his eyes and saw myself there. I wondered then, if he also saw his reflection in my eyes and if he, too, felt the human connection.
Had I not looked closely in his eyes, I would have missed it.
Thank you, little one, for allowing me to see myself in your eyes.
A simple breath, the bubble forms
then floats in search of things adored
keen awareness, filling bareness
collections placed and interlaced
a meaning soon restored.
She dipped below an ocean wave
And gave with grace a treasure saved
of centuries old, its story told
seasons more to yet unfold
A single pearl unscathed.
From Collections from Breathing – a WIP book of poetry
“Erase all thoughts from your mind.”
“Melt into the floor and think of nothing.”
I don’t know about you but I find it extremely hard to think about nothing.
The lights are out now. I guess that’s supposed to help.
I’m laying on the yoga mat (didn’t do Yoga but “all-in conditioning”). Body is tired and yes there is a bit of “melting” going on if sweat pooling beneath a torso counts.
Think of nothing.
I’m not good at this. All I manage to do is think about how to think about nothing.
What are the other seven people thinking about in their “nothingness”?
How does anyone think of nothing?
I try not to think about the errands I’ll be running when class is over, about what I’ll be photoshopping when I get home, about how to improve the playground that I’ve set up for my grandkids in my backyard.
I stare at the back of my closed eyelids.
Better. It’s dark there.
I’m thinking about how dark it is. But there is nothing to touch, nothing to see.
I’m a little bored.
And then I see it.
A wee wisp of floating light.
A silk scarf in space illuminated by a moon that sits somewhere out of my line of sight.
Or is it a star sliding sideways in slow motion leaving a jet stream of light?
Nah, it’s an angel thread,
an angel fiber,
I’m still thinking. I’m thinking of the perfect word to describe that thing floating in my blackened vision.
“Start moving your fingers, your toes. Open your eyes,” she says.
What? It’s time to get up?
I’m not finished thinking of nothing.
Forgive me if I’m buggin’
and I do a little pluggin’
But I’ve got a bit of news I’d like to share
You see, the inspiration
Came from grandkids fine donation
Of ideas of which they planted I ensnared
I made a little book, you see
of children and diversity
So I posted it without an ounce of qualm
And if you’d like to see it
If only for a wee bit
you can find it now on Amazon.com
Yes, You Can! available on Amazon.com
When I am with you
how fragile are the eggshells beneath my feet?
Will they break with the slightest touch?
A mere cast of any eye?
Should I walk with feet bare
or can my soul and thoughts be bared and shared
without fear of injury
or to me.
Mostly, to you. My back is strong.
Yet, I will not avoid the eggshells.
I will say they are as strong as Ostrich eggs
and stand on them without hesitation
without burden of breakage
with hearts in tact
communication an easy commute
We do it from time to time. Right?
I’ve seen you do so (when I wasn’t disappearing).
“WordPress? Blogging? Later …” you’ve said.
Well, here’s a quick re-emergence, a brief “shout out” to say,
GIVE ME A MINUTE. I’M ON A ROLL.
When flying, they always say “place the oxygen mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others”.
This is a reminder to always take care of yourself first and, if lost, reclaim your position in life.