Personal stories don’t really have a beginning, or middle, and an ending. Things happen. One thing follows another and some things lead up to what we thought might have happened first. The effects, implications, and the lessons we gain along the way are never finished. A pattern forms that is sometimes hidden from plain sight.
We do make sense of our lives by constructing a story – it doesn’t have to be written down. Stories connect us—to each other and to larger truths.
This story could begin with a Christmas habit; one our family took up quite a few years ago. It happened when our children became young adults. After eating a big breakfast, opening a few presents, and sustaining dwindling conversations, we would retreat to an afternoon movie at our local theatre. This past Christmas, it was just Mitch and I, and guess what? People in our new town shared our family’s holiday escape; the cinema was packed.
We decided to catch the 4:00 show and narrowed our choices down to two: CATS and It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood. Our quick watch of the official trailers made the decision easy. At the downtown theatre, we indulged in the almost leather reclining seats and a $14 bag of buttery popcorn. Truly, it was a holiday event.
We were assigned seats in row 3. My neck was grateful for the 14 ads for upcoming attractions that gave it time to adjust to the view. It took me a bit longer to get used to the actor, Tom Hanks, playing Mr. Rogers. I’m still not comfortable with that choice. But it didn’t matter.
The movie, to me, was more about the actual relationship that framed the story: the transformation of the journalist, Tom Junod, who was assigned to interview the children’s television icon in the late 1990s. The official movie trailer touts: “It only takes one person to inspire a world of kindness.” While there have been several news and magazine stories that say this is the lesson our world most needs right now, that is not the essence of the movie I watched.
Sure, Fred Roger’s was kind. However, what I witnessed that made a difference in Tom Junod’s life was beyond kindness. I am unable to find adequate words to describe the ways Fred Rogers celebrated, no, uncovered goodness in a person that people like you and I don’t easily see. Goodness isn’t exactly the right word either.
Fred Rogers recognized an intangible something— making an attitude, an insight, an observation matter to encourage another’s life. Fred’s gift was his ability to recognize and name a kernel of Tom’s being (in this case) that was healing to name. Evidently, Tom Jurod was an interrogator with a reputation, not a good one. The fact that Fred and Tom developed a relationship is another miracle of the Fred Rogers’ sort.
Events of both these men’s lives were remixed in the movie. I found myself searching for more evidence to flesh out what was Fred Rogers. I watched videos, read and watched interviews, and reread articles both from the time of the events and those that the movie has generated in recent weeks.
I found this line in the original article in Esquire magazine that Tom Jurod crafted back in November of 1998:
He finds me, because that’s what Mister Rogers does—he looks, and then he finds.
Tom is recalling a time when he met Fred Rogers at Penn Station in New York City. “Find” seems like an appropriate verb for meeting in a large place with lots of people. However, the verb “find” that Tom uses transcends an act of physically locating. Different than being kind, or gracious, or even good, Fred Rogers looks and then he finds—the person—the real person deep inside.
The story isn’t finished, of course. And this story (the one in the movie) came up in my mind and in my daily writing and is woven into daily relationships both after and, I realized, even before I watched it.
Six or seven months ago, I read a story in Krista Tippett’s book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. I marked the story and wrote bits of both the tale and Krista’s interview in my journal.
On her podcast, On Being, Krista interviewed Rachel Naomi Remen, who told this story in response to a question asking her to recall the spiritual roots of her life. Rachel’s Hasidic rabbi grandfather gifted her this story that is behind the Jewish teaching, Tikkun Olan, to “repair the world.” Rachel Naomi Remen’s story begins,
…when there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. In the course of history, this world… emerged from the heart of holy darkness as a great ray of light. And … there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world broke. The wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light. And they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.
According to Rachel’s rabbi grandfather, the whole human race is here because
…we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world.
Both lived stories, the one wise woman Rachel was told by her grandfather 63 years ago and the one I watched in It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood and beyond, tell us that we are healers of the world. Both stories open a window of possibility.
As Rachel told Krista: “It’s not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It’s about healing the world that touches you.” It is a collective task.
That’s what Fred Rogers had—the courage to be unselfconscious enough to practice that kind of looking and finding.