Today, Fred Rogers would’ve been 90 years old if stomach cancer hadn’t taken this kind soul home to Heaven in 2003. He was the best neighbor; he was there for us in the hard times, in the good times, to explain death, tragedy, bad news, divorce, how to show our emotions correctly, and how to be a friend.
Last night, for no apparent reason other than I indeed needed a voice of calm, of reassurance, I started searching for interviews with Mister Rogers. I stumbled upon this video of him on Charlie Rose’s show in 1994 and 1997. This video really hit me in the heart; it was the bucket of ice water from the Holy Spirit that I’d been needing. After I watched the video, I settled in to do my devotional and, lo and behold, my devotional for the day was talking about what a gift silence is. One of the key quotes that shook me is included below. Rogers was talking about how obsessed with information this world is instead of wonder. I do try to find something to be in awe of every day, but I’m also obsessive and want to know all the info I can about almost every single thing. I don’t know why, it just drives my pleasure centers in the brain. After watching this interview and doing my devotional, I am committing to allowing more time for quiet in my life. Be it that it means getting up earlier and setting aside time for prayer (which is what I should be doing), creating space for me to have silence when I get home, or simply not turning on a TV show in the background when doing chores.
Below are some of the quotes that stuck out to me from these clips. I encourage you to watch the video and sit in silence when it is over to absorb what was just said, but take these with you and hold them close.
(On what one of his books is about, appearing on the Charlie Rose show): “…It’s about the white spaces between the paragraphs, which I think are more important than any of the text because it allows you to think about what’s just been said.”
(On who made a difference in his life): “…Oh, a lot of people; but a lot of people who have allowed me to have some silence. And I don’t think we give that gift very much anymore. I’m very concerned that our society is much more interested in information than wonder. In noise, rather than silence. How do we do that?…how do we encourage reflection?…Oh my, this is a noisy world.”
“Real revelation happens in silence.”
“A great gift of any adult to a child, seems to me, is to love what you do in front of the child.”
“What we see is rarely what is essential. What’s behind your face is what’s essential.”
“The most important thing is we’re able to be one-to-one, you and I, at the moment. If we can be present to the moment with the person that we happened to be with at the moment, that’s what’s important.”
(On children) “I want to be involved with these innocent people who make up the Kingdom of Heaven.”
After watching the video last night, I saw a tweet today about more details on the upcoming movie in which Tom Hanks, the modern-day Jimmy Stewart, plays Mister Rogers. This led me to the source material, which is a brilliant interview written 20 years ago for Esquire magazine. In this article, I saw evidence of Jesus, what it looks like to truly embody Christ today:
When I handed him back the phone, he said, “Bye, my dear,” and hung up and curled on the couch like a cat, with his bare calves swirled underneath him and one of his hands gripping his ankle, so that he looked as languorous as an odalisque. There was an energy to him, however, a fearlessness, an unashamed insistence on intimacy, and though I tried to ask him questions about himself, he always turned the questions back on me…
Let’s think about what we know about Christ from the Gospels; the casualness with which he addressed and interacted with others. He always saw the deeper person, he was always focused on being present with them. He was unashamed and insisted on intimacy, so much so that it made people uncomfortable. Not because it was inappropriate, but because they knew he was seeing what was behind their face, their hearts, eager and earnest to actually encounter them as an individual. Jesus’s parables always led back to self-reflection and examination. He gave us what we needed, the answers that we already knew, just needed to be reminded of. This intimacy and insistence is the essence of Christ, of letting others know how deeply loved they are, and that they, too are worthy of loving others.
In the article, the writer talks about journeying into Manhattan with Mister Rogers to film an episode. The crowd gathers around him, much like the crowds gathered around Jesus. His manager acts like the disciples, trying to get her friend and boss some space and respect:
Oh, Margy Whitmer tried to keep people away from him, tried to tell people that if they gave her their names and addresses, Mister Rogers would send them an autographed picture, but every time she turned around, there was Mister Rogers putting his arms around someone, or wiping the tears off someone’s cheek, or passing around the picture of someone’s child, or getting on his knees to talk to a child. Margy couldn’t stop them, and she couldn’t stop him. “Oh, Mister Rogers, thank you for my childhood.” “Oh, Mister Rogers, you’re the father I never had.” “Oh, Mister Rogers, would you please just hug me?” After a while, Margy just rolled her eyes and gave up, because it’s always like this with Mister Rogers, because the thing that people don’t understand about him is that he’s greedy for this—greedy for the grace that people offer him.
What draws us to this man is not the power he weld or the money he had. We are drawn by authentic love, kindness, attention, and truth. These people didn’t want to get a picture with him to say they met him; they wanted to tell him thank you for what he had done for them, to just touch him. If we could also act with this much authenticity, care, genuine love and affection, and humility, we could show others this magnanimous love of Christ.
To live as Fred Rogers lived is to be counter-cultural. His whole life, he kept the same weight of 143 lbs. and would not do anything to disrupt that. He chose 143 because that’s how many letters are in each word of “I love you”: 1 for “I”, 4 for “Love”, and 3 for “you”. He said he felt like seeing that number on the scale every morning was a blessing. As I’ve reflected on this great man on his 90th birthday, I’ve set my eyes on several verses that I’m sure he kept on a folded piece of paper in his wallet or taped to a page of his planner:
- “We love because he first loved us” 1 John 4:19
- “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” John 14:12
- “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
- “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:34 & 35
For further reading:
The Counterculture Approach Of Fred Rogers
The Saint-Like Legacy of Fred Rogers
What America Needs Now is Mr. Rogers