Jennifer Nobles: I will totally be your neighbor…
I finally got around to watching the heartwarming documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the story of beloved children’s television host Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I had heard before watching it that one would be foolish to do so without a box of tissues nearby, and all I can say is that those reports are undeniably true.
Having seen the film, it’s abundantly clear that not many people in the history of television – public or otherwise – have possessed the same knowledge and expertise that Mr. Rogers did. More to the point, it was almost as if he had never lost touch with his inner child, and never forgot what it was like to be a child, so full of wonder and imagination.
Where has empathy like this gone?
Watching the movie was like taking a step back in time, being reminded of things, characters, scenery and puppets (my God, the puppets) that made Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood such an integral part of my childhood. As if it were yesterday, I remember watching dear Fred change from his jacket to his cardigan, feed his fish, and then transport himself and all of his viewers into the Land of Make Believe. The memories are so vivid, and watching it made me feel like a kid again.
The Kleenex were being dispensed rapidly during the part of Rogers’ story when, in the 1970s, he welcomed a young boy to his program named Jeffrey Erlanger, a quadriplegic who was a fan of his show. Tears gushed from my eyes as he sang “It’s You I Like” to this young boy, who gently sang along with him. This is just one demonstration of Rogers’ passion to include all children and people, no matter their color, religion, race, or ability, in his world of imagination and make believe. All people, he maintained, have the right to feel included and loved.
After being presented the lifetime achievement award by The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Fred Rogers famously asked the audience, filled with stars of stage and screen: “All of us have special ones who loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are, those who cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life?”
Watching from my comfortable chair by the fire, I did as he asked. Again the tears started flowing. I thought of my Meama, my mom and dad, my wonderful third grade teacher Bonnie Hurley, and more. I could have listed those who helped me for another 10 minutes. And that alone is but one gift I can say I received from the great Fred Rogers.
I encourage you all to watch Won’t You Be My Neighbor? if you have the chance. You will likely find yourself transported to the Land of Make Believe, to a time when life was simpler, more innocent.
And remember, in the words of Mister Rogers himself: “You always make each day a special day. You know how: By just your being you.”
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