In 1983, at the tender age of 14, I met Mister Rogers.
I was with a few other young people and we came to his hotel room in New York City to interview him. Mister Rogers was in town to promote a book he had written about grandparents. At that time, I was a youth journalist in a journalism program in Manhattan for children ages 8-18 years old; called Children’s Express. Young people would get in groups of five or so and go out and interview people on issues connected to youth. We did stories on homelessness, latch key kids, young people with disabilities and we also covered the Presidential National Conventions. On this day the adult children’s editor had assigned us go meet Mister Rogers and learn about the book and his feelings on parenting and grandparenting. I had wanted to work on this story very badly because I felt the need to tell him a story, something we were trained to not do as journalists.
As a preschool child I loved Mister Rogers so much! I’d watch his show every day and see his face look right at me to say I was special; life was okay, and friendships were possible. I had been bullied and life at home was very hard as well. Mister Rogers was hope and curiosity all at the same time at the young age of five. And, wow, did I love Lady Aberlin! So, when he came to New York for a live show; my mom took me to see him. I was five or six and it probably cost a lot more than they had to spare but my love was strong, so my parents splurged. The day we went to see him was so magical. My mom never really took me places, it was always my dad who took me on adventures, and she was in a light and excited mood. I think she loved Mister Rogers too. It was special because it was rare that my mom was with me alone given my brother was only one or two years old. I remember the room was large and the stage was very low to the ground; there were screaming kids and parents everywhere and the scene seemed chaotic. I see in my minds’ eye the stage with the train tracks and trolley, the small houses and the colors all familiar. My excitement was unbearable, finally I would get to see Mister Rogers and Lady Aberlin. I loved her voice and her kindness and ease, and it felt like she was singing just to me. The show began and HE came out and introduced all the other cast members and then the puppets came out and kids were excited and happy. I was not. I became disenchanted. The magic got lost in seeing the reality. The spell just broke. I don’t remember the rest of the day. I assume we had a good time afterwards being in The City. After that visit though, I never watched another Mister Rogers episode.
After 12 years of puzzling over this; I now had a chance to explore what happened as a five-year-old when the magic was broken with Mister Rogers. It never occurred to that he might not want to explore the topic; I never thought he would be anything other than loving and kind. We got to his hotel room and explained the interview, got comfortable and began with setting up the tape recorder and allowing the younger people to ask all the questions. As an older member my role was to make sure the younger kids had the chance to speak and ask questions. I wasn’t allowed to intervene unless they got stuck. I impatiently waited for the kids to be done and the interview over. Once we were done Mister Rogers introduced us to David Newell who was Mister McFeeley on the show and we got to have the wonder of discovering how movie magic works given how unfamiliar he was out of costume. My chance came when his attention wandered over to me and I shared my story. He had eyes with such warmth and kindness and his interest was laser focused. He then asked me all these questions about the day and my feelings and my thoughts about what had happened and why I thought the switch turned off so suddenly. There were more questions than answers; yet I got what I came for in those minutes.
Attention, care, curiosity and hope were all in one exchange. An exchange that has left me with the sense that people need attending and that sometimes I can be the one who gets the loving kindness. In fact, what I have learned is that I must get the loving kindness first in order to spread ways to give it to others and find tools that open others up to loving kindness. When I am feeling alone those loving eyes bolster me.
Below is a link to a Loving Kindness guided meditation that I use often with clients and with myself. Creating your own Loving Kindness meditation can also be very helpful. Today mine might look like this:
May I feel the warmth of others like sun on my face
May I care for myself with acceptance
May courage and vulnerability connect me to my deeper self
May I live with ease