One (very early) morning, when I was finding sleep hard to hold onto, I was channel surfing and happened upon "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood."
I had to stop. Mr. Rogers, much like the characters of "Sesame Street," was as integral a part of my childhood as the smell of coffee in the morning and the nighttime sounds of gurgling water and the frogs in the creek near my house.
I had the great fortune of making my arrival at about the same time "Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood" and "Sesame Street" first began airing. Mr. Rogers hit the airwaves on February 19, 1968, and Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Kermit, Grover and Co. entered the world on November 10, 1969 - five days before I turned 2. Then just a couple years later, "The Electric Company" flipped the switch. How lucky was I?
To this day I appreciate the generous spirit that was Fred Rogers. His lessons of kindness, acceptance and self-worth still resonate - and are still so very needed. He addressed difficult topics, like being angry and divorce and war, with no condescension toward his young viewers. He delighted in showing us the everyday wonders of the world, but his joy shone through when he was using his imagination and taking wide-eyed children along for the trolley ride.
How marvelous was it for a child to watch an adult pretend, to make believe?
“Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” was a gift to me and to my sister, who is almost exactly one year older than I. And Mr. Rogers was very special to us, as I'm sure he was to many people.
My sister called me when she learned of Fred Rogers’ passing. I was driving at the time and had to pull over. We shared a cry over the phone, a heartfelt grief over the loss of a man we had never met but who made the world a better place in his time here.
"You are special. You are the only person exactly like you." What a sublime message for kids - and for grown-ups, too.