I am a tad bit sentimental and I admit, I probably over-romanticize things at times, too.
Maybe that’s why I often like to remember the antics and tales of my childhood so much.
For the most part, it was a time of awe and wonder nestled between Twinkie clouds and Hostess cupcake dreams.
And there’s parts of our childhood that make us who we are and influence the adults we become, even if we don’t realize it at the time.
Mine was watching Mister Rogers.
Every evening as Granny made dinner, she usually sat me in front of the televisions with a snack of some kind. Sometimes, it was peanut butter and crackers; others, it was a bag of Bugles she had saved me from her lunch break.
She turned on Mister Rogers and hoped I would stay entertained long enough to not bother her while she cooked.
And it was enough to keep me in rapt entertainment, at least for that half hour.
I was pulled into this world where kindness mattered, where respect for everyone was given.
Where people spoke with gentle words and softer tones.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was sinking into the fabric of my soul.
The show was even enough to sooth the edges on my often loud, usually hot-tempered grandfather.
“PawPaw, who’s your favorite character?” I asked one day.
My grandfather looked at the screen thoughtfully. “I reckon I like that little tiger one the best. He seems like a neat little cat.”
My grandfather, this larger than life man, who worked in construction as a roofer and often came home covered in tar and when angered, could probably frighten the underworld, liked the shy, slightly fearful tiger. It was quite a contrast.
“Who’s your favorite?” he asked me.
“I like them all,” I said. “But I hope one day when I grow up, I marry someone like Mister Rogers. He seems to be nice to everyone.”
And to a little girl, that was very important.
See, I was a chubby kid, my mother was divorced – something that was not that common back then, and my father, who I never saw or talked to, was Iranian. There were a lot of little things that made me ‘different’ and not necessarily in a good way.
But I had the sanctity and safety of childhood.
Of being surrounded by people who loved me and having friends that cared about me regardless of the fact I made a horrible choice for dodgeball or any other team sport in the gym.
I grew up and somehow, the lessons I had learned from watching Mister Roger’s Neighborhood faded into the background.
It wasn’t until several years, when working in radio, my friend and morning show host mentioned it was the day that Fred Rogers had passed away.
“He died?” I asked.
I somehow had missed it a few years before and was saddened at the news.
“Yeah,” my friend said. “It hit me hard. Fred Rogers was a pretty cool guy.”
A cool guy.
I had never thought of Mister Rogers in that light before; to me, he had been soothing and comfort, a magical escape from a world that sometimes may not be quite as nice.
“You really should check out some of the stories on him,” my friend said. “Cole would really love him. There’s a book too that will really tell you how amazing of a person he was.”
“I will check it out,” I promised.
I didn’t have to. A few days later, in my mailbox was the book, I’m Proud of You, by Tim Madigan, and a few DVDs of Mister Rogers Neighborhood for Cole to watch.
I started the book that evening and was profoundly amazed at how the Fred Rogers on the show was exactly the way Fred Rogers was in real life.
Compassion, kindness, and empathy truly were his superpowers.
No wonder as a child I hid his lessons deep in my heart.
Over the years, especially the last few, I have been even more drawn to his wisdom. One of his quotes has been shared quite frequently: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
I find myself looking for the helpers a lot lately. Wondering where they are, the people who somehow find ways to help those around them and give comfort, even when they are experiencing pain and trauma themselves.
But sometimes, that’s what we are supposed to do. Come together and help one another, simply because we are ‘neighbors’ and need each other.
I think of how his simple wisdom is more profound now and how in so many ways, my childhood was idyllic. I lived in a world where I didn’t understand fear, I didn’t have worries or concerns because life and the world I grew up in felt safe and secure.
Now, there’s children who will never know what that feels like.
Re-reading Fred Rogers’ words makes me see how timeless they were. And how we need them, desperately need them now.
Mister Rogers passed away 15 years ago on February 27, but thankfully, his kind, compassionate wisdom has left behind some gentle echoes.