Wineskins Archive

February 10, 2014

Mister Rogers (May-Jun 2003)

Filed under: — @ 1:43 am and

A great man died in April. He wasn’t a politician. He wasn’t an athlete. He wasn’t an astronaut. He was a minister. He was filled with the Spirit. He loved children. And children knew he loved them. He was gentle and strong. He always spoke softly and he looked you in the eye. He was my neighbor.

Years ago, my son was watching television and stopped to look at me and say, “Mom, I like Mister Rogers.” I asked why. He answered, “Because Mister Rogers likes me.”

The world is mourning the death of Fred McFeely Rogers. For thirty years, he has spoken to children through the television. Just about everyone has a Mister Rogers story similar to mine. We trusted him with our children. There were moments as a young mother…tired, probably a little depressed and still so many things to do that I would sit down and watch Mister Rogers…the children had wandered away to do something else but I was watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. He would sing to me…Everybody’s fancy, everybody’s fine…It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…Tree, tree, tree…He lightened my load. I felt like my three-year-old son…Mister Rogers likes me.

I am a labor and delivery nurse and started my day yesterday in the operating room doing a caesarean section. The radio was playing and they announced that Fred Rogers had died that morning from stomach cancer. I looked at the anesthesiologist and said,” Mister Rogers died. Wasn’t he a great man?” The doctor answered with,” Yes, he was.” Both of us welled up with tears.

I picked up the paper this morning. Mister Rogers had four articles written about him in the Washington Post—one on the front page. What is it about him that makes us mourn him so?

Everywhere Mister Rogers went he was met by people whose lives had been touched by his honesty and his willingness to take on the big stuff of life. He had done what he set out to do…given them a haven. One woman spoke of sexual abuse in her home but they did have a little room where there was a television. She watched Mister Rogers religiously and in those moments in front of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood she knew that she was worth something. He pulled her through. Or, if truth be known, Jesus pulled her through in the person of Fred Rogers.

Fred Rogers saw that television was taking a wrong turn. He didn’t sit around and whine about it. He did something positive and productive. Championing healthy, safe space for children became his passion. A neighborhood grew on Public Television. Its inhabitants were platypus, tigers, queens and a handyman. They may have seemed silly to the outsider but to the insider they were a lifeline. They talked about death, divorce, assassination, fear, going potty and how crayons were made. Mister Rogers knew that we were all afraid and we needed reassuring.

Holy ground is not something we associate with television. Fred Rogers allowed the Spirit to move in his life and assured us that every time we communicated with someone we were stepping into holy ground.

Many times when we mourn, we do so because we regret…something left unsaid, undone. I don’t mourn Mister Rogers for those reasons. It is his honesty, purity, directness, and God-filled life that I mourn. I grieve because I believe we need more Fred Rogers.

Mister Rogers invited us in. Jesus asked us to invite our neighbors into our lives and to lift burdens. Isn’t that what Fred Rogers did?

A man speaking to Jesus wanted to absolve himself of responsibility for his neighbor, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

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