Yesterday was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day for many reasons. Twenty-two people killed and dozens more injured in Manchester while living their lives and seeing an artist they loved and admired perform in concert. A filmmaker admitting to the world that he finally had to walk away from his work in order to mourn the loss of his child and be with his family when they need him most. Yesterday was not an easy or pleasant day for a lot of people, and for me, it reminded me briefly of the year 2016. When reading about death and despair just seemed constant and you found yourself feeling physically and emotionally drained at times, while asking far too often when was it going to stop.
Sometime late in the evening, author and Entertainment Weekly senior staff writer Anthony Breznican saw a familiar quote from one Fred Rogers being shared online (while also honoring the fact that all episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood are now available for streaming) and so he decided to start a thread on Twitter in which he talked about Mr. Rogers and how he was better than one could expect at providing help for those who really needed it most:
A lot of people are sharing this quote after the heartbreak in Manchester. It’s also the 50th anniversary of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers was from Pittsburgh, my hometown, and my generation grew up loving this man, who taught us to be kind above all. Fred Rogers was the real thing. That gentle soul? It was no act. As I got older, I lost touch with the show, which kept running through 2001. But in college, one day, I rediscovered it. I was having a hard time. The future seemed dark. I was struggling, lonely, dealing with a lot of broken pieces and not adjusting well. I went to Pitt and devoted everything I had to the school paper, hoping that would propel me into some kind of worthwhile future. It was easy to feel hopeless. One span was especially bad. Walking out of the dorm, I heard familiar music: 🎶Won’t you be my neighbor…
The TV was playing in an empty common room. Mr. Rogers as there, asking me what I do with the mad I feel. (I had lots to spare. still do) It feels silly to say - it felt silly then - but I stood mesmerized. His show felt like a cool hand on a hot head. I left feeling better. Days later, I get in the elevator at the paper to ride down to the lobby. The doors open. Mr. Rogers is standing there. For real. I can’t believe it. I get in and he nods at me. I do back. I think he could sense a geek-out coming. But I kept it together.
The doors open, he lets me go out first. I go, but turn around. “Mr. Rogers… I don’t mean to bother you. But I wanted to say thanks.” He smiles, but this has to happen to him every 10 feet. “Did you grow up as one of my neighbors?” I felt like crying. Yeah. I was. Opens his arms, lifting his satchel for a hug. “It’s good to see you again neighbor.” I got to hug Mr. Rogers, y’all!
I pull it together. We’re walking out and I mention liking Johnny Costa (he was the piano player on the show.) We made more small talk. As he went out the door, I said (in a kind of rambling gush) that I’d stumbled on the show again recently, when I really needed it. So I just said, “Thanks for that.” Mr. Rogers nodded. He paused. He undid his scarf. He motioned to the window, & sat down on the ledge. This is what set Mr. Rogers apart. No one else would’ve done this.
He goes, “Do you want to tell me what was upsetting you?”
So I sat. I told him my grandfather had just died. He was one of the few good things I had. I felt adrift. Brokenhearted. I like to think I didn’t go on and on, but pretty soon he was telling me about his grandfather & a boat the old man bought him as a kid. Mr. Rogers asked how long ago Pap had died. It was a couple months. His grandfather was obviously gone decades. He still wished the old man was here. Wished he still had the boat. You’ll never stop missing the people you love, Mr. Rogers said. The grandfather gave Mr. Rogers the row boat as reward for something. I forget what. Grades, or graduation. Something important. He didn’t have either now, but he had that work ethic, that knowledge that the old man encouraged with his gift.
“Those things never go away,” Mr. Rogers said. I’m sure my eyes looked like stewed tomatoes.
Finally, I said thank you. And apologized if I made him late for an appointment. “Sometimes you’re right where you need to be,” he said.
Mr. Rogers was there for me then. So here’s this story, on the 50th anniversary of his show, for anyone who needs him now.
I never saw him again. But that “helper” quote? That’s authentic. That’s who he was. For real.
When Mr. Rogers died in 2003, I sat at my computer with tears in my eyes. But I wasn’t crying over the death of a celebrity.
I was mourning the loss of a neighbor.
This was the quote that inspired Anthony Breznican to share this thread with everyone:
And to add on to what Lainey said, always keep this in mind when something horrible happens and your first response is to show off how “dark and edgy” your sense of humor is and how much you’re above caring about human suffering:
What is the best thing to do when you think of an offensive tweet about a tragedy?— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) May 23, 2017