Fred Rogers knew that a spiritual leader should elevate the people in his care to be their best. He did not waste his time hating things or making fun of people's efforts. He sliced through the exterior and talked to the child inside them or the adult they would be. If he had lived to see Honey Boo Boo, he would have told her that she has an inner beauty that no judge can take away from her. And if he had endured 9/11 with us, he- oh, he did:
Watch A Message of Hope on PBS. See more from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
Why It Made Him Great
"I know how tough it is some days to look with hope and confidence on the months and years ahead," he says. He didn't live in a world full of songs and puppets. He brought songs and puppets to a world that was scared and tired and vulnerable. A lot of people of a lot of faiths are waiting for the Messiah, but even if one arrives, how are you going to tell the difference between him and Fred Rogers?
He explained death and divorce and disease to kids so that they'd learn which fears were justified and which they could relinquish. His job wasn't only to help children grow up, but to remind adults, always, that they had been children once, and that someone, somewhere, had loved them.
And when he died himself, of stomach cancer -- which you might recognize as The Cancer Nobody Deserves, But Especially Not Mr. Rogers -- he left us all, yes, poorer, but so much richer. He gave a lot of us the tools to be kind to each other. And any praise would give a short measure of the man, so the only worthy testament to who he was is the life he lived, without judgments, without politics, with selflessness and love. He was our neighbor, and he loved us.
He saw a beautiful world, so he created a beautiful world, and all the people around him -- all the cynical, sarcastic, tired, busy people -- knew that we were seeing something that would not happen twice in our lives. And we all respected what he had made, because he made it for us -- even when he himself was tired and busy.
Virtue Unlocked: Selflessness
March 20th is the greatest American's birthday, and we should all remember what he taught, not only that day, but every day. If Congress has any memory at all, it will go further than the resolutions honoring him and make his birthday a national holiday. The man gave literally a third of this country something that only some of us got at home if we were lucky: an adult who cared about them, and a teacher of the human spirit.
But we can't wait for Congress to mark it. We have to make sure we remember Rogers Day, and the other 364 days, by telling people we love them just the way they are. Surprise people with kindness, and make the most of the gift he gave us. Let's turn our world into his Neighborhood.
Brendan McGinley means it.
For other times Brendan got mushy, check out Love and his Letter to My Unborn Son.