It’s a Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood…
Mr. Rogers was a daily part of our morning when my daughters were little girls. As an ‘older’ mom, I often heard from younger moms with children my girls’ age that he was out of date and old fashioned.
In a world of Rugrats and fiesty self-oriented cartoon characters, Mr Rogers represented a tone and message I felt was missing in much of children’s programming. Truth be told, I loved his field trips, learned how crayons are made and other assorted lessons right along with them.
I recently read an article which reminded me that no matter what happens in life, ‘simple and deep’ is probably what drew me to Mr. Rogers as well as to the most important people in my life. I was also reminded that sometimes in darkness and pain we move away from the light rather than toward it’s offer of comfort and care. I realized that in the last couple of years, in many ways, I allowed a void to take the place of things that used to bring me comfort; including places I used to visit regularly, music I used to love, and memories that made me smile.
“Light’ for me represents faith and belief in whichever way it is described. Whether it is referred to in terms of God, Christ, Jesus, Buddah, Hope, Heaven, The Other Side, Connection, Love, Eternity……I have become less concerned with the ‘labels’ in the last two years, and much more aware of the ‘greater’ concept.
The following, written by Lex Breckinridge, reminded me why Mr. Rogers was a part of my daughters’ lives. He offered light in a simple way.
“Deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.” This off-the-cuff observation was made by Fred Rogers, better known as “Mr. Rogers,” creator of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the longest running series on PBS. He said it to a young man named Benjamin Wagner during a conversation about Wagner’s job as a journalist and a producer for MTV, a job that Wagner regarded with much ambivalence. Rogers turned to him and said, “You know, Benjamin, I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.” Mr. Rogers died not long thereafter, and Benjamin, who said that this comment haunted him for years, set out on a journey of discovery to get to know the real Mr. Rogers, to seek out the neighbors who knew Mr. Rogers best, to see what that seemingly offhand comment might really mean.
The results of this search may be seen in a beautiful, moving documentary film called “Mr. Rogers & Me,” now showing on PBS. Benjamin discovered that Fred Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister who was in later years a faithful Episcopalian, was exactly the same warm, compassionate, caring person in real life as the character he played on his long-running children’s television program. He was completely sincere when he would say face-to-face to one person what he said to millions of children, “I like you just the way you are.”
In the documentary we see the late Tim Russert saying that Rogers was “… forever taking advantage of every moment to tell people that it is important that we respect one another and love one another.” Linda Ellerbe observes that Rogers believed that everyone “… had this wonderful person inside who was just dying to get out, and he was going to open the door for you, and then help you open the door for others. That’s pretty simple and pretty deep.” A life’s work spent affirming the goodness of individual human beings, honoring their dignity, and teaching and encouraging them to pass that respect and love along to others. That sounds positively counter cultural. It certainly goes against the grain of our noisy, hypercompetitive world. In fact, it sounds like the gospel, and it sounds like Jesus’ instructions to his disciples to go spread the good news. Deep and simple, indeed.
We work diligently to make our lives complex. Do you feel as if your life is overscheduled? If so, chances are it is overly complex. Yet, all this complexity gets in the way of true human encounters. Anything and everything we do that does not affirm the worth of another human being or that ignores or overlooks another person who is as much God’s Beloved as we are probably indicates a degree of complexity in our lives that is life-denying rather than life-affirming.
Fred Rogers seems to have lived life with very little stress. He was an extremely intelligent and gifted person, so it’s not as if he were not paying attention. The pursuit of material things was also not a priority for him, although he clearly had all that he needed. His low stress life was a result of placing others first. In everything he did, and in every human encounter he had, he “sought to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving his neighbor as himself,” as the Baptismal covenant puts it. Seems like a pretty straightforward prescription to reduce complexity and thereby reduce stress in our own lives. Summer is a good time to begin this practice, a time to make every human encounter a valuable one, a time to see Christ in one another. Deep and simple. -Lex Breckinridge, Rector at St. Thomas Epicsopal Church Medina (from the June 2012 Collect)
See Nobody Gets Off Scott Free for a full list of articles and resources for bereaved parents and/or those experiencing loss.