The world can't seem to get enough of Mister Rogers, and for good reason. In an era of salacious reality television, online trolls, and non-stop political scandals, Fred Rogers remains a pure beam of light and goodness, even 16 years after his passing.
The movie "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" opened to rave reviews Thanksgiving week, and has spawned a slew of stories and articles about the beloved children's television star. But one little-known Fred Rogers story in particular seems perfectly fitting for this holiday season.
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A recent article in the Washington Post tells a story of Rogers being asked to help decorate Hallmark's flagship store in Manhattan during the holidays. In his book, "The Good Neighbor," biographer Maxwell King describes Rogers visiting the store and seeing other famous people's ornate, over-the-top displays. But that was hardly Mister Rogers' M.O. After seeing what others had created, Rogers returned home and designed a display perfectly befitting his person and purpose.
Imagine a clear glass Lucite cube encapsulating a single Norfolk Island pine tree, approximately the height of a child. No decorations. No ornaments or tinsel. Just the simple, bare tree, roots and all. And at the bottom, a plaque that reads, "I like you just the way you are." That was his design.
Oh, Mister Rogers. I know you weren't perfect, but you were pretty darn close.
Fred Rogers didn't just love children; he understood them on a level deeper than most. Millions of us spent a good portion of our childhoods watching him methodically change his sweater and shoes, feed his fish, and take us on the trolley to the Land of Make Believe. We listened to him talk about feelings, about how each one of us is special in our own way. We learned about neighbors and community, about hospitality and support. His show wasn't about teaching kids letters and numbers, but about teaching us how to be whole, compassionate humans.
He never wavered in the message that every child is capable of loving and being loved. He never wavered in his belief that expressing our feelings was healthy and that children need a safe place to do just that. He never wavered in his humanity or his passionate defense of quality programming for children.
And his conviction that every child was special and worthy of being loved just the way they are was summed up in that simple Christmas tree display. You don't have to do anything extraordinary to be liked. You don't have to dress yourself up in fancy things to be lovable. You don't have to change yourself or be anything other than who you are to be worthy.
Mister Rogers expounded a simple truth that people spend thousands of dollars in therapy to discover, and his gentle way of conveying that message to children made him a hero to so many of us. And the world needs him now more than ever.
Let's keep sharing his legacy through these stories from his life, because every generation deserves the uplifting gift of Fred Rogers.