While I was on my lunch break today, I was listening to some jazz tunes on the internet. One of my super favorite jazz artists is Johnny Costa. He was arguably one of the finest jazz pianists around until his death in 1996 from anemia. Those who are familiar with Johnny Costa’s work will also know that he was the longtime music director of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood on PBS.
One of these tunes happened to be a recording of Mr. Rogers theme, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. This song was featured on one of his early albums before he took a long hiatus from recording. This led me to start watching some Mr. Rogers clips on YouTube.
Even as a middle-aged man, I find that I have moments of what I would characterize as irrational fear, anger and sadness with things that are often out of my control. The other side of the coin though is that I also like to think that I bring lots of love to the table for the world and the people in it. Regardless of whatever emotion is at play in the depths of my mind, I find gigantic amounts of comfort with being able to share my emotions. I consider myself eternally grateful that I’ve had, and still have, people in my life who love me, listen to me and offer me a much needed hug.
Growing up in my home, the child of a single, alcoholic and clinically narcissistic mother, was not always easy. Sometimes I didn’t always get the parental attention that I needed emotionally. Don’t get me wrong. Mom loved me very very much, but often times she did not really have a good idea as to how to minister to my needs. I had a wonderful, bountiful support network of people who helped shape me as a young person and guide me into adulthood. When that support network was busy with their own responsibilities though, there was Mr. Rogers.
Looking back on my years from about age 6 all the way up to even age 14, I remember watching his program. I frequently lost myself watching him explain complex emotional concepts, showing how things worked with “Picture Picture” and staring at the Land of Make-believe as the characters dealt with the very same issues that Mr. Rogers introduced at the beginning of the program. When he spoke, I was absolutely certain that he was talking directly to me. For 30 minutes a day, I was the strongest, most secure kid on the block.
As I started to watch the clips today, I put my sandwich down, settled deep into my high back chair and just stared at the screen and listened intently to each word that was spoken. I was instantly taken to a place of deep comfort and security. I tuned everything else out, with a little help from my headphones, and listened once again to his rendition of “It’s You I Like” as if it was the very first time I’d heard it. I started to get teary-eyed. Not I think for nostalgia sake, but for shear happiness with the absolute certainty that a Presbyterian minister from Pittsburgh, whom I’d never met in person, reached out of the TV screen and touched my very being as if he’d been right there in the room with me. Even as I write this, I’m teary-eyed. I’m grateful for his ministry and his career and the care and grace that he levied in each episode, each word that ever came out of his mouth.
Who’s our modern day Mr. Rogers? Who do our kids turn to in 2014 for affirmation of the fact that they are special and loved? What are we doing with the medium of television to raise up the world into the idea that love, patience, kindness, imagination and play are not out dated? I think that most folks today would be hard pressed to offer any examples, especially in this Honey Boo Boo, 24-hour newstainment, glits and glamour, slumdog squarepants, real housewives of where-ever society we live in nowadays. Arguably, I think television producers would tell you that nothing like what Fred Rogers offered would sell unless it was loaded up with commercials for sugary cereals and energy drinks every 8 minutes. (Yes… It’s every 8 minutes in a 30 minute block. I timed it one day.)
My prayer is that we’ll protect our children, who are growing up in 2014, from the bombardment of “pie in the face”, lessonless, mind-numbing drivel that seems to have become the new normal. I hope deeply in my heart that our children will have the same opportunity that I had to feel loved during the oft times when Mom and Dad are fighting over the checkbook, or maybe something even more confusing to a child. It’s important that we give kids the confidence to face the things that they inevitably will be made to face when they enter high school, then college or vocational school, and later the work force.
Most of all, remember that you are loved. Let your mind run back to childhood occasionally. It’s a fun feeling and can be comforting.