Once upon a time, there was Mr. Rogers' neighborhood. It was always a beautiful day there and neighbors were always welcomed with open arms.

In this neighborhood, were great lessons, not just for children, but for adults. After all, adults were once children, too. In Mr. Rogers' world, he worked to look at each person as the child they once were (and still are, somewhere inside).

He practiced kindness and to practice it, he had to work at it. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t have a natural bent toward kindness, I am sure he did.

But he had to hone that instinct, pray about it and then consciously practice it, every day. He certainly faced resistance to it — the world is not easily divested of its anger and suspicion — but he never let that stop him from trying.

It was easier with children, who are still so innocent, who haven’t yet developed their individual prejudices and fear of differences.

When I heard about “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” the new movie about Mr. Rogers starring Tom Hanks, I knew I needed to see it. I didn’t just want to see it; I really needed to go. It was like having a deep thirst I needed to quench. And it didn’t hurt that the friendly face of Tom Hanks was there to portray the venerable personality.

The movie is done in an ingenuous way and I won’t give away the plot. It is loosely based on a 1998 article in Esquire magazine.

The Esquire story was written by Tom Junrod, who set out to do a profile on Rogers and ended up having a life-changing experience. To say he was skeptical of the placid gentle gaze of Fred Rogers is an understatement. He wanted to know the man behind “the character” Rogers betrayed on his children’s TV show. What he found was that there was no character, there was just a man determined to grace a hard world with kindness, both for the children he addressed on TV every day and for the adults he encountered along the way. After all, as Rogers said, every adult was once a child, too.

It’s a good lesson to remember.

The movie does not portray Junrod himself, but his representative character, named Lloyd Vogel in the movie, is facing similar demons and his exposure to Rogers is a catalyst for enlightenment and change.

Rogers' wife, both as her character in the movie and in real life, says her husband was no saint.

Thank goodness. It is better that he failed sometimes, better that he worked at doing the right thing, that he fought with his human self and dealt with his failings, just like the rest of us.

The concepts he promoted are simple in the extreme, so simple that they’re entirely overlooked by a callous world.

It was easy to take Rogers' simplicity for naivete, but those wise enough to look a little closer, saw that it was hard-earned wisdom instead. The Presbyterian pastor’s most potent power lay in focusing all his compassion and attention on the person in front of him, whether it be an angry, cynical adult like Junrod (or Vogel in the movie) or thousands of little faces staring at their TV screens. He gave them all he had.

Here are some of the things I learned from “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

The first is probably the hardest: work to accept people as they are, not as you wish them to be. Work at being kind even when you don’t feel like being kind, especially when you don’t. Work to make kindness your first instinct (man, that’s a whole lot easier said than done).

Look for the child inside each person you meet and remember, that you were once a child, too.

Pray for people by name.

Find an outlet for anger and disappointment that doesn’t inflict damage on others or on yourself.

It’s OK to be a work in progress — the important thing is to do the work to make the progress.

Boy, did I need that movie and it’s one I will likely turn to again and again, especially in this era of anger, fear and mistrust.

Mr. Rogers' message to children of all ages is one that is needed today more than ever.

I left the theater that day feeling just a little bit lighter despite the pound of buttered popcorn in my stomach.

I guess the best way to say it is that I felt like a prayer had been answered — one that I hadn’t even known I needed to pray.

Margie Richards is a reporter and office manager for The Madison County Journal. She can be reached at margie@mainstreetnews.com.

(1) comment

Virginia Moss

This got me thinking. There’s so much animosity, anger and disrespect for others today I often wonder how it got this way. Of course, technology and the internet are certainly responsible for a huge amount of it, but those have been good things, too; a double-edged sword. I’m on the leading edge of the baby boom generation. Younger folks are blaming my generation for all the ills of the world; that’s actually what they are supposed to do and have done since forever. What generation is mostly in control of our society today? I’d say people between the ages of 55 and 80.

My daughter was born the same year that both Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was born. At barely age 3 she knew how to read the clock to know when Mr. Rogers was to come to visit on television. She would wait for 15 to 20 minutes with great longing. When it was time, I would turn on the television and her elation, every single day, was ecstatic. When he went to take off his comfy shoes to put on his street shoes, she would become apprehensive. When he got up to take off his sweater and put on his coat, she would start crying. Then great, mournful sobs when he was gone. Every single day. I worried that this might not be good for her. Today she still loves that man; she cried again when he died and so did I.

How much impact has those two programs had on the many adults younger than age 50 who viewed them regularly growing up? Perhaps there is a fundamental difference in the makeup of the younger generation compared to us boomers. Maybe younger people as a whole have a better way forward for our country than we think we have. It’s their world, not ours; we are on the way out. I have confidence in this younger generation to take control with a greater understanding of human relations than my angry and cynical generation does. Of course, we had real reason to be so; we just didn’t really know how to best deal with it in a more rapidly changing world than has ever existed before. Hopefully, the future for all of us will be kind to all of us as well as prosperous and secure. Good luck, kids! And don’t forget to register and to go vote.

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