When I was young, I didn’t like cartoons. I didn’t like all the fast moving, hard hitting, loud, often violent, and mostly poorly drawn animation that was children’s television (and frankly, I still don’t). When Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood debuted in early 1968, I was right there in front of our black & white console TV. I was four years old. I watched every show, every morning. Fred Rogers taught me about my parents’ impending divorce. He comforted me and told me it was okay and just part of life when my childhood dog, a Golden Retriever mix named Sham, had to be put down. Mr. Rogers encouraged me to be brave and he reinforced in me the fact that I am unique and he liked me, just exactly the way I was.
I didn’t much care for the controversy and turmoil that was part of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, but I did like Daniel Striped Tiger (so full of emotion), Henrietta Pussycat (meow meow meow meow meow meow), and X the Owl (so smart and eager to learn). My favorite part of the show was when Mr. Rogers went around his “neighborhood” to the music shop, the toy shop, the bakery, etc… I remember later watching episodes of Mr. Rogers’ with my boys, specifically the episode where he visits the Little Tikes factory and they were able to see how their Cozy Coupe was made.
On a plane to New York a couple weeks ago, I watched the recent documentary movie titled ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ Gentle tears flowed down my cheeks pretty much from beginning to end. Not tears of sadness, but tears of gratefulness. Tears of love for a man I never met, but who impacted my life significantly. He was there to guide me through tough spots. He filled in the gaps when my parents couldn’t. It was like he was speaking directly to me. He knew me, and every other child, “longs to be loved and to know they’re lovable.” Watching Mr. Rogers was like sitting down with someone I trusted implicitly and who was there to teach me about love, and kindness, and trust, and self awareness, and he asked for nothing in return. Whether we were watching a turtle slowly moving across the floor, or learning how to breathe deeply, or learning how to peel an apple using an old metal peeler, I was mesmerized. He taught me I don’t have to do anything sensational for people to love me.
Today is Blue Eyes’ 55th birthday.
Blue Eyes didn’t watch Mr. Rogers. Blue Eyes didn’t have anyone in his life who loved him unconditionally. Blue Eyes was one of the children Fred Rogers was trying to reach… but couldn’t. Fred states that, “the greatest evil is someone who would try to make you feel less than you are.” Every day Blue Eyes’ parents made him feel less than. He felt completely unlovable and would therefore spend 40+ years of his life trying to fill that hole inside. Blue Eyes’ feelings were pushed down and away and something horrible started to grow. It isn’t something he understood or that he wanted. It just was.
Mr. Rogers wrote a song about what to do with angry feelings.
What do you do with the mad that you feel
When you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong…
And nothing you do seems very right?
It’s great to be able to stop
When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,
And be able to do something else instead
And think this song:
I can stop when I want to
Can stop when I wish
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this
And know that the feeling is really mine.
Unfortunately good people can’t always reach the ones who need them most. Our world is filled with people who desperately needed to know unconditional love when they were young. In Mr. Roger’s words, “a healthy family is about trust.” In my words, healthy relationships are about trust, and honesty, and unconditional love. My birthday wish for Blue Eyes is that he knows that after all these years and everything that has happened, he has people in his corner who love him unconditionally. We love him not for the things he isn’t, but for all the things he is.