Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Mr. Rogers and Me

I just finished reading a fantastic book: I'm Proud of You: Life Lessons from My Friend Fred Rogers. Actually, I listened to the audiobook on my daily commute, and I loved it.

As long time readers of this sparse blog know, Fred Rogers has been my hero for a long time -- since 1982, in fact, when during my senior year of high school I hosted our class talent show as Mister Rogers. I prepared for weeks. I originally thought I'd be able to get huge laughs making fun of him, he seemed like a very easy target. But after a month of writing my script, listening to records, and watching the program, I walked into the kitchen where Ma Wanders was frying ground beef. I said to her, "Mom, I don't think I can do this. I can't make fun of Mister Rogers. He's too nice. He's too good." My mom looked at me and said very simply, "Don't make fun of him, pay tribute to him." So that's what I tried to do. When I entered the back of the theatre singing the Neighbor Song the audience went crazy. After the song, I talked about what a neighbor is, and asked, "Will you sing the Neighbor Song with me now?" The cheer was deafening. They sang loud and joyously. Everyone knew Mister Rogers and everyone loved him. I think the fact that I tried my best to capture his intimacy and his LOVE made the show a hit... For three nights we packed the house, some people coming every night. It was amazing to see the football team singing along to Mister Rogers, but later I performed the same routine at a prison, and seeing the reaction there touched me even more profoundly.

The only reason it worked was because I was doing my best to honor a man who taught me to be better, and who was willing to affirm the value and worth of everyone he met, even those of us he never met. I've always treasured the memory of trying to walk a mile in his sneakers.

I'm excited that a documentary is being made to celebrate the life and teachings of Fred Rogers. Learn more at Fred Rogers and Me. Or watch the trailer below:

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