Friday, March 24, 2006

Joy from a beautiful Neighborhood

There is a woman with whom I work - a feisty little Italian grandma with a fantastic attitude and a great a sense of humor. She and I have been the "cut-up" pair on our work team - and she's been the perfect foil for my offbeat humor over the last three months. If it was at all possible to laugh during the challenges we've faced since January, she and I have managed to do it.

When my friend gets particularly angry, her primary coping method (other than swearing, which she does quite well) is to start singing the theme song from "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood:"
It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood
A beautiful day for a neighbor
Would you be mine?...
Could you be mine?...
Well, one morning after a particularly long night at the office, I was driving back downtown and heard a review of Music From The Neighborhood, a tribute to the beautiful songs written and scored by Fred Rogers for his long-running PBS show. And I thought of my long-suffering co-worker immediately.

So as soon as I got to the office, I ordered it from Amazon. And - predictably - it was backordered.

It finally got here Thursday.

By the time I'd gotten in on Friday, things had evidently been going south for a while. So when I got to my desk, my co-worker's first snappy comment was, "Well, look who's finally rolled in! Where da'Hell have YOU been?" I smiled and said, "Hmmm... let's see what Uncle Steve has in his bag for Miss Grumpy today..." And I pulled out the CD, and handed it to her.

She took it and said, "What da hell is dis?..." and then she got a look at the cover art. She said, "Oh, my GOD...I can't believe this..."

And she got up and gave me a big hug.
(OK, that was more like it.)

And she proceeded to listen to the silly thing all the rest of the day. Her obvious enoyment of the music made the whole thing worthwhile.

But here's the really sappy part.

First, confession time. I don't think I've ever seen an entire episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in my life. (No, I don't know how that happened, either. But I'm pretty sure it's true.) I had no idea about the show; couldn't name any of the characters; knew nothing of the show's music (other than the first 4 lines of the show'd title song); and I knew even less of the life of Fred Rogers himself.

That is, until tonight.

I came home from a day of running all over hell's half acres, opened my own copy of Songs from the Neighborhood, and sat down to watch the companion "making-of" DVD.

And that's when I started to cry, too....

This powerful obituary on said,
In 1963, he was ordained a Presbyterian minister with a charge to continue his work with children and families through television... He said, "I believe that those of us who are the producers and purveyors of television -- or video games or newspapers or any mass media -- I believe that we are the servants of this nation."

That's why he got into television in the first place.

"I got into television because I hated it so," he said. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."
Now there's a ministry.

By closing, I leave you with the lyrics from one of those songs I'd never heard before tonight. I know that Fred Rogers sang this song to the kids he cared for so deeply, and not to me. But as I listened to this CD, with a smile on my face and sappy tears of joy in my eyes, I heard a message from the God that Mister Rogers served - a message to all God's kids, me included:
It's you I like
It's not the things you wear
It's not the way you do your hair
But it's you I like

The way you are right now
Way down deep inside you
Not the things that hide you
It's not your toys - they're just beside you

But it's you I like
Every part of you
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new
I hope that you'll remember
Even when you're feeling blue
That it's you, yourself
It's you I like
Preach it, neighbor...amen, and ever amen.


dave paisley said...

Pretty radical guy, that Fred Rogers. He was preaching unconditional acceptance how many decades before it became fashionable? (Well, apart from that Jesus fella who tried to make it fashionable a few millenia ago).

Awesome post Steve - and I think your co-worker's reaction was entirely predictable :)

Poor Mad Peter said...

Yo: a holiness time if there ever was one.

And here's a sidebar, Steve man. Fred Rogers came to Canada for a year early in his career and worked in broadcasting. He brought a colleague with him: Maine-born-and-raised Ernie Coombs. Fred packed it in after a year, headed south and went on to create Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.

Ernie stayed. He became Mr. Dressup, arguably the most famous and beloved of all children's tv hosts in Canada, influencing 3 generations of children (and parents).

His show had little or no pyrotechnics, just a piano, some hand puppets, a human sidekick, and Ernie's endless, patient creativity. He died a few years ago, and he is missed.

Gord said...

A couple of weeks ago I found a great little book called The World According to Mister Rogers. FOreword by his wife, it is a collection of quotes, song words,etc. Great book!

wilsonian said...

Glad you got a copy for yourself. It's never too late to hear those words sung to's you I like.qbck

juniper68 said...

I knew a guy in the 90's whose big claim to fame (30 years later) was that he'd been in seminary with Mr. Rogers. He makes an impression...

Heidi Renee said...

oh steve, i'm so sorry you missed out on the joy of having mr. r be a part of your life like he was in mine.

i grew up feeling like he was the only adult who truly understood me. never having met the man i felt that he 'heard me' somehow. he was the only male in my life who took the time to sit and listen - not to me, but to the others on his program, so i knew that if he heard them, he'd hear me too.

last year i had the wonderful opportunity to bring my children to the pittsburgh children's museum where there is an amazing tribute to mr. r - his closet, his shoes, cardigans, swing, trolly, cameras and puppets.

i put on one of those cardigans, sat on the swing and just folded my arms around myself and cried. i had hoped when we moved near pittsburgh that i would one day be able to meet him, he died shortly after we arrived.

i know that one day i will be able to look into his eyes and thank him for his deep ministry in this little red haired girls life. i'm so glad you've had the chance to meet him too.