Thursday, August 2, 2018

Dear Mister Rogers

“The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”
Fred Rogers 

Dear Mister Rogers,

Thank you for being you. I also like you just the way you are. No, I love you just the way you are. I think people have screwed up the word "love." I think they confuse it with a feeling of desperation and possession. I think they confuse it with lust. Sadly, many people also equate money and love. Thank you for showing me how to love unconditionally, to meet people where they are at, and let them go while still loving them. It hasn't always been easy, in fact sometimes it has been so hard I was sure I wanted to give up entirely, but what you taught me has come in handy almost every day of my life.

“Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

I watched you regularly as a child, and you filled some holes where my teachers would have been, if they weren't getting to know thirty new students each year. You filled holes where my grandparents might have been, had they been alive. You filled holes where my aunts and uncles might have been, if they had lived closer. You filled holes where my parents might have been, had they not had so many struggles with their adult relationships and careers. You helped me feel wanted in the big, cold universe. You, and others like you, who stepped outside of the grownup world to be with me, helped me see how important love is in the world.

“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me. ”
Fred Rogers

Some people say that your message of unconditional love, that we are all "special," led us all to believe we are entitled to things, and to special treatment. I know you didn't really mean that, because you lived a fairly humble life yourself, content with yourself for your ability to love your neighbor. You simply believed that everyone deserves to feel worthy of their life here. Sometimes it is hard to feel worthy of the life we are given, when so much value is placed on aesthetics and wealth. Many people suffer because our society values image and money over kindness. People who choose to value kindness over status end up struggling because they chose caregiving professions which require them to work long hours for little pay. Some of them give up because they cannot afford housing and go into a profession which makes better money, but leaves them feeling lonely at the end of each day.

“The thing I remember best about successful people I've met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they're doing and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success. They just love what they're doing, and they love it in front of others.”
Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

It was very challenging at times, especially due to the isolation which I had to fight constantly, but I was able to take your message with me into my adult life - nearly half over, now - so that I could do my best to raise two children into secure adults. I chose to give up my career as a scientist so that my kids would know without a doubt that they are wanted and loved in this world. Sometimes I feel guilty for bringing people into this world because I feel like most people have given up on the idea that being a kind person is enough. It seems that some people feel like kind people are faking it, or are just boring. Often I feel that people only like me for what I can do for them, and so I try very hard to please people. I worry all the time that I have failed at helping my kids feel loved, because I know it will be difficult for them to feel like they are "enough" just being kind people. Many times when I meet people and tell them I chose to educate my children at home, I get the feeling they think I thought I could do it "better." It wasn't like that at all. I received an excellent public education and got a graduate degree in a difficult field. I have no doubts about the educational system's ability to make economy-supporting individuals. Doors to many occupations are open to me because of my education. I chose to educate my children at home because I wanted to protect them from the stress and bullying I experienced growing up. I didn't want them to feel badly about their bodies, their interests, who they love, their haves or have nots. These are the worries that I have that keep me from succeeding in the "real world." They are worries I did not want my children to have. Learning at home is easy in the context of following our hearts and intuition, spending time with others who made the same choice for the same reason we did - they want to raise children who feel loved, who feel excited about learning at their own pace, whose confidence hasn't been stripped away by the trickle-down economics of narcissism that prevails in this country.

“You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”
Fred Rogers

Mister Rogers, I know that you were deeply saddened by the events of September 11, 2001. I was, too. I was alone that morning, nursing my 4 month old baby boy down for his morning nap. I had no deep friendships in California where I was living, and our families were so far away. I had brought another person into this cold, lonely world. We had made the decision to move back to Colorado to be near family, near where we thought we would find love again to support our little family - where we could be more than an employee in a company, a house in a planned urban development. But Colorado had its problems, too. A few years earlier, I watched, horrified and alone in California, packing my suitcase to go defend my thesis in Ohio, as helicopter footage of the Columbine High School massacre streamed across my television. In that moment, I had felt that the bloodbath was the result of children who did not feel love for themselves or other people. Very disturbed youth took vengeance on the community they felt had failed them. In the years since your death, entire industries have arisen to protect us from the wrath of the unloved, and people are becoming more and more distrustful of each other. Our elected officials are increasingly people who value money over kindness, and display these values in their business, career, and lifestyle choices. Political alliances end up being more about career advantages than helping constituents or communities. Me, me, me, the world cries, as everyone wonders why even though they got that bonus, they still feel empty inside.

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say "It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem." Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
Fred Rogers

I can tell that people are scared. I am scared, too. But I do think that what we're dealing with is nothing new. It used to be that the common man had no choice in his life, and so this question of wealth and power over people was largely left to aristocracy alone. But in this democratic state, now everyone has the chance to "make it big." To live the "American Dream." To prioritize status. As more and more people have chosen paychecks over people since the 1970's, the basic things we need - shelter and food - have gotten more expensive. And it takes more time to earn the money needed for these basics, so there is less time to love one another, and that empty feeling seems to be growing.

“Often when you think you're at the end of something, you're at the beginning of something else.”
Fred Rogers

This is, I think, a huge opportunity for change. If, instead of frantically trying to fill that empty feeling, each person were to take the time to notice it, to become really aware of it, to really feel it, and then fill it with acts of kindness to others, rather than material acquisitions, the world would change. I really believe that if we were put here for anything, it is to love each other. A friend once asked me, when I proclaimed that I was certain that the reason I am here is to love other people, to help them feel less lonely, "But how do you deal with never getting love back?" Well, I thought in that moment two things (which I did not say), 1) that finally I had met someone who tried and understood how challenging it can be to love, and 2) how sad I was that this person had not felt love. This is, I feel, a casualty of people conflating love with possession and lust. If love of the variety that you practiced were everywhere, maybe we wouldn't be so afraid to really love one another. Love wouldn't be so much about loving and losing, as abundant love.

“When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”
Fred Rogers

Mister Rogers, I am afraid that people will read this and think it is a bunch of malarkey. I do hope they will take the time to see the movies made in your memory - the recently released Won't You Be My Neighbor? as well as Mister Rogers and Me, which is currently available on Amazon Prime. I can't imagine what the world would have been like without you. You were the only one giving an unadulterated message of love to many of the children of my generation. You made it okay to feel anger, sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, joy, hope, love... all of the feelings. Yes, I was a huge fan of yours. I know you met many, many people during your career. Do you remember spending 20 minutes with a little brown-haired brown-eyed dimpled girl in the narthex of your seminary colleague's church in Denver, sometime in the 1980's? Do you remember that the little girl gave you a snake scarf she knitted herself with a rick-rack tongue and button eyes? You were that girl's hero, and you were exactly the beautiful loving person she hoped you would be in real life. You are the reason that every time her heart breaks, she tries even harder to love more deeply next time, even though it's becoming so rare that people think she is weird and often hurt her.

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”
Fred Rogers

Please, I ask you, help me to not give up on the world. It's so hard, and I hurt so much. I'm so tired, and I am having trouble being optimistic as my kids become young adults. People keep telling me this is a good way to be, but I just don't know if I can do it anymore. But I'll try, just for you. For humanity.

With all the pieces of my broken heart,