Updated: Jul 20, 2019
I don’t have a memory of the first time I heard Mister Rogers sing, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” As a matter of fact, I would argue that I really can’t remember a time without Mister Rogers being a key figure in my upbringing. He taught me about imagination, crayons, and learning to cope with death. In spite of the cheesy sets and slow paced conversations on his daily television program, it was by far one of my favorite shows to watch. For me and millions of others, Mister Rogers was an adult we felt like actually heard us, even though few of us ever actually held an in-person conversation with the man in the TV.
We now live in a time where the void of a calming figure like Mister Rogers is felt quite heavily. Information moves quickly and we hardly ever take the slow paced stroll that Fred took us on to discover a deeper reality. Videos mov
e in flashes giving us 30-second soundbites that we take a face value. A far cry from the days that our favorite neighbor would painstakingly teach us how toys were made or how to properly feed our goldfish.
Rarely do we take moments to spend time in the land of make believe, instead, living in a harsh reality full of threats of war, immigration issues, and a country that feels like it is on the cusp of losing its identity.
But when we open a history book to what was happening during the time Rogers was on the air (1968-2001) there was a lot of turmoil. The show aired through the assassinations of both Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and so much more. The truth is, for those of us who grew up in Mister Rogers Neighborhood, we lived through a lot of tragedies and fears, we just had a kindly neighbor to walk us through those fears, tell us it was alright to feel, and that we could make a difference.
We lost Mister Rogers in February 27th, 2003.
I don’t really think I knew how much I missed that neighbor until a saw a silly meme a while back circulating on social media. Someone had written a conversation between Thor and Mister Rogers. Something about the author’s words just penetrated directly into my heart. I couldn’t help but to read each line in my head as his voice. By the end of the imaginary conversation, I was in tears. Mostly because I felt that calming and reassuring feeling again. Something I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. I felt comfortable, and safe, and able to evaluate those emotions. I could almost hear Mister Rogers telling me, “It’s alright to cry, its alright to be sad, it’s alright to miss me. Thats not bad, it’s normal. You are normal too.”
I looked around wondering if there was anyone filling those old houseshoes anymore. Where was the Mister Rogers now?
Enter Tom Hanks.
There are few actors alive that can embody what it means to be kind. So much of what it means to be a mega star circulates around the idea that you are powerful and we are merely fools who drop some coin into their million dollar budgets. Tom Hanks embodies a persona of someone you could sit down with to have coffee, and he would try to find out why you didn’t finish your graduate program yet, and maybe help you put together a plan. Some of my favorite stories of Mr. Hanks’ absurd moments include him helping a student be reunited with her lost student ID or the time some podcasters were able to convince him to do their show after sending him an antique type writer. He has a certain quality about him, something almost neighborly.
Which is likely why the announcement of him playing Mister Rogers in the upcoming (and untitled) biopic was met with much fanfare across the internet. But I think its deeper than that.
I think we are all fatigued with debating each other, fighting over memes, and ideologies. I believe, and maybe it’s just make believe, that we all collectively are ready to walk back into the old neighborhood again, to sit there in the living room as Mister Rogers puts on that bright red sweater and we can feel, even if just for a moment, that we are safe, that we are loved, and that we are all special… just the way we are.
Nathan Monk’s new book, Charity Means Love, addresses many of our cultural blind spots in how we give. Pre-order your copy today!