When you hear about a video called “Mister Rogers Remixed,” you might assume that it is a parody or mockery of the oft-spoofed man and his iconic TV show. But this video is not a spoof. It is gentle, and respectful, and well done, and I love it:
Getting to know Mister Rogers
After watching the video remix, I wanted to learn more about Mister Rogers. Sure, I watched “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” as a child, and I’ve learned snippets of information about Fred Rogers here and there—that he was an ordained minister; that his grandfather’s name was McFeely; that he played jazz piano. But I never felt like I really knew him.
Then I read Tom Junod’s 1998 article, “Can You Say… ‘Hero’?”
It’s a long piece—8,000 words. But it sure doesn’t feel long. I think it may be the best example of feature writing I’ve ever read.
Story upon story
Junod’s article tells the story of the day he spent with Fred Rogers, following him through a typical day. And the story of that single day is filled with smaller stories—about Mister Rogers’ daily routine, about kids who look up to him, about a gorilla who recognized him. Each of those tender tales offers a shining glimpse into the character of the man in the tennis shoes and zip-up sweater.
The thread that binds these glimpses together is Junod’s own story, an apparent account of a boy and his stuffed rabbit that turns out to be a story of faith and redemption. It’s beautiful. In fact, it makes me think that Fred Rogers must have been very much like Jesus—he seems a little strange and simple, easy to make fun of, but there’s depth and power and love that turns out to be disarming and life-changing.
I do hope you’ll read the whole story.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes to look for:
“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….”
“Though of all races, the schoolchildren were mostly black and Latino, and they didn’t even approach Mister Rogers and ask him for his autograph. They just sang. They sang, all at once, all together, the song he sings at the start of his program, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and turned the clattering train into a single soft, runaway choir.”
“…[P]eople realized that he wasn’t kidding, that Mister Rogers was not some convenient eunuch but rather a man, an authority figure who actually expected them to do what he asked … and so they did.”
“What is grace? I’m not certain; all I know is that my heart felt like a spike, and then, in that room, it opened and felt like an umbrella. I had never prayed like that before, ever.”
If anything in the article or the video reminds you of your own Mister Rogers story, will you be a good neighbor and share it in the comments below?
And please, someone, tell me you see the similarities between Mister Rogers and Jesus! Or am I over-glorifying the man?