Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
I know many people who have “heroes,” men and women who they admire pretty much without reservation. They will not hear anything bad about their hero. Myself, there are many people who I admire for one thing or another, but I’m quite aware of their flaws, and I don’t give them a pass on them. Martin Luther King is a good example. I wish I didn’t know the things I know about him, I wish that Greatest American Traitor of All Time Until Trump Came Along, J. Edgar Hoover, hadn’t investigated King’s private life, but he did, and so the great civil rights fighter is forever flawed in my mind as the libertine he was when he left the pulpit.
There are very, very, very few people living now (none that I can think of at the moment), or who have ever lived, that I admire without reservation. Fred Rogers is one. My youngest son, Stefan, was a toddler when Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was fairly new. Like all boys, he liked the knockabout action garbage like Speed Racer. But the only show that really mesmerized him was Mister Rogers. He would sit and just soak it all in.
If you have never actually watched the show you might think he was totally cornball, even vaguely simple-minded. Nothing could be more wrong. The things he talked about, and how he talked about them were deep, and sometimes scary. His persona was very mild-mannered, slow-talking but quite precise … and it wasn’t an act! He was exactly that way in real life. He was an ordained Presbyterian minister, but he never preached a sermon, either in church or in real life. He saw his mission as bringing a little kindness into the sad world of children’s television. And I thank the God I don’t believe in that he did. His testimony in Congress almost single-handedly saved Public Television. That’s not an exaggeration. The chairman of the committee where he spoke had been ready to cut it off completely … and Rogers changed his mind! Do you know how seldom that happens?
There’s really no way to describe Mister Rogers except by watching and listening to him. Surely this is bullshit, you might think, but if you haven’t changed your mind when you get to the end of this excellent documentary … well, I feel sorry for you. See this at once.