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  • Writer's pictureshelisloterbeek

A Day With Mister Rogers

I'm not sure how often, but it was regularly I sat with Fred Rogers as a child. I was transported on the trolley and his world of imagination was my own. I didn't know it at the time, but his gentle, soothing, voice and slow pace would have a great impact on where I am today. So, this blog has some to do with Mister Rogers and more to do with my reflection, which I'm sure he would be okay with.

Today I watched "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" starring Tom Hanks. My husband and I rarely go to the movies, and his suggestion seemed particularly odd because there were no cinematic feats taking place, but we went. About ten seconds into the movie I reached for my phone because I wanted to write something he said about anger down. Then I put it down. I knew I'd miss something else trying to remember exactly what it was and also I didn't want to irritate the people around me.

(I googled later and the quote is this if you're wondering, "Do you know what forgiveness means? It’s a decision we make to release a person from the feelings of anger we have against them." It's such a beautiful definition!)

Later on this evening, we watched the 2018 documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor" so that we could make connections between the two movies. As the story played out, there were so many things I noticed about Mister Rogers that spoke directly to me and I didn't want to forget.

1. He chose to be present. Who knows if the exact words he used with the magazine writer were the same, but basically he says over the phone that the guy writing the article is the most important person because he's right there with him at the moment.

2. He gives an invitation. "Won't you be my neighbor?" A question. An invitation for anyone to respond to. So many open ended questions.

3. He acknowledges others as the beloved. Every person is unique. Every person is to be loved just as they are. “I don’t think anyone can grow unless he’s loved exactly as he is now, appreciated for what he is rather than what he will be.”

4. He practiced. His wife asked that we not think of him as a saint as that would devalue his practice. His faith sustained him and he had practices to help him keep going along the way.

When the reporter asked if he was burdened by all he heard from the children, he doesn't respond directly. Instead, he speaks of the ways his faith is sustained, by reading scripture and praying for individuals by name, by being silent, by exercising and when he had to let out a lot of emotion, he would bang on the low end of the piano. He would let his anger go. His contemplative nature allowed him to be able to be present and peaceful.

5. He holds space. He listened to children. Often, being quiet for a few moments after they've stopped speaking in case they had something else to say. “Listening is where love begins: listening to ourselves and then to our neighbors.” “We speak with more than our mouths. We listen with more than our ears.” Hi gives space for silence and reflection. I've watched recorded commencement addresses where he gives the audience a minute of silence to sit and think about who has loved them into being.

Perhaps the most moving moment for me came in the movie "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" as Mister Rogers offers a moment of silence to the reporter in the restaurant. Silence in the clanking of silverware and the chatter of other lunching individuals. An entire minute of silence in the movie. Tears flowed as I realized that this was my own practice, the silence, that is so transformative for my whole being. And realizing that some have never sat in a moment of true silence.

All of these qualities that Fred Rogers embodies are the same qualities that I hope to embody as a spiritual director. I didn't know where the journey would take me when I began a year and a half ago, but of course, as Mister Roger's said; “Discovering the truth about ourselves is a lifetime’s work, but it’s worth the effort.”

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