Mr. Rogers died on my 21st birthday. It was actually the first thing I heard upon waking up – the announcer on the radio saying, "This morning Fred Rogers, from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, has died of cancer. He was 74."
Talk about knowing your childhood is over once and for all.
Every year around this time, I find myself remembering him, his show, all the things I learned from him when I was four and five, and how those lessons are still part of my everyday life. Mr. Rogers wanted to make television, and by extension, the world, a better place — and he certainly did that. He taught lessons of kindness and compassion, but he also told me to value learning and creativity and imagination. He taught me to ask questions and be curious. It's because of Mr. Rogers that I know how saxophones and crayons are made. I've used all of these lessons in my adult life.
There is a time in childhood when the shows you watched are no longer cool, and your friends scoff at them as being "baby shows." That certainly happened with Mr. Rogers, but I never really stopped loving the show. At 21, I had conversations with my friends about the Neighborhood, and I remember realizing that Mr. Rogers wasn't just for kids, although it was directed at kids. It was for all of us. And all of us, even the ones who made the most fun of him when we were teenagers, realized it.
This past year, I've seen a Mr. Rogers resurgence — I don't know if it's because of the new show on PBS, or because it's been long enough that we can talk about him, or if it's because we've seen enough horror in the past year that we need him. But as I've watched clips, both of the old television show and of Mr. Rogers' testimony before Congress or his awards acceptance speeches, I've been struck by how well his messages have held up.
So thank you Mr. Rogers. I hope that you found the afterlife you were expecting and you are peaceful. Today, I'll celebrate my 31st birthday, and I'll raise a glass for you.
Rogers, Fred. "Mr. Rogers "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood".mp4." YouTube. Accessed February 27, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMUGJZrR9Jg&feature=youtu.be.