Growing up, I was vaguely familiar with Mister Rogers. It wasn’t until this time last year where I exhibited a newfound fascination for the gentle man known for his red sweaters, blue shoes and, more importantly, his immense impact on children. It began with watching the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” starring Tom Hanks. That prompted reading Tom Junod’s lengthy Esquire article, “Can You Say…Hero?” that inspired the movie.
Soon after, I began watching the children’s show “Daniel Tiger” with my daughter. Inspired by a puppet from the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” television show, the main character in this spinoff series features a shy tiger. My obsession continued with reading the book, “The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember.” I found it endearing and surprising to learn in the book that Fred Rogers most related to Daniel for his shyness.
As a parent, I think we can learn as much as our children from Mister Rogers’ teachings and life’s work. Here are two lessons that stood out to me after talking with someone who was fortunate to meet Fred Rogers, because, let’s be honest, I can’t help myself anymore.
Finding Your Ministry
“A lot of folks don’t realize he was a presbyterian minister,” explained the Rev. Dr. W. Terry Schoener, who was a minister at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church for 27 years. Dr. Schoener baptized and confirmed me, and also kindly came out of retirement to marry my husband and I in 2016. Here I was roping him into another favor, when I heard he was a few years behind Mister Rogers at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
According to his bio, Fred Rogers “completed a Master of Divinity degree at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and was ordained as a presbyterian minister in 1963 with the unique charge of serving children and families through the media.”
When asked about his early encounters with Mister Rogers, Dr. Schoener said, “He did have a special something that you sensed immediately. He was just what you saw when he was on the show.”
Naturally, I asked what he used to wear in the early 1960s. Apparently, the sweater came later. It was usually a sports coat for a casual look.
Dr. Schoener also noted, “He was called to a special ministry by God and gifted to remember what most of us forget or suppress. Mister Rogers could remember what it was like to be a child with all the needs to be loved and comforted and reassured, and how to address those anxieties so a child could comprehend him.”
Dr. Schoener recounts raising his young children and watching Mister Rogers in the 1960s, when the icon was first starting out with a local television program in Pittsburgh. He thought, “Well, here’s a ministry I had never considered. What an impact on so many children and parents.”
While corresponding with Dr. Schoener, he applauded me for dipping my toe into journalism. He said, “Make it your ministry!” Leave it to both Mister Rogers and Dr. Schoener to inspire us all to find our ministry – even when it’s outside of a church or right under our noses.
Being A Good Neighbor
Mister Rogers regularly spoke about treating our neighbor at least as well as we treat ourselves. But what exactly defines a neighbor? Both Mister Rogers and Dr. Schoener helped me understand that a neighbor isn’t only determined by proximity.
“When you think of the Bible story of the ‘Good Samaritan,’ it’s a person who isn’t a neighbor at all. He wasn’t from the same region nor religion. All God’s children should be neighbors,” said Dr. Schoener. He also shared how much he appreciated that Mister Rogers would regularly introduce people who were different in some way. “Together, they made a neighborhood.”
When asked how people can be a good neighbor from a distance, or social distance for that matter given the global pandemic, Dr. Schoener summed it up well by saying, “Open your heart to people who are struggling.”
He shared how he and his wife deliver Irish soda bread to people in their building who are having a rough time or a blind lady who travels up to their eighth floor to chat from their doorway. This is done safely while all parties wear a mask. Phone or video calls, mailing greeting cards, leaving or sending a package, or donating to charities are all other easy ways to be a good neighbor – be it if you’re near or far.
One powerful neighbor quote from Mister Rogers is: “All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbors — in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver.”
If everyone could embrace being a good neighbor — like Mister Rogers — imagine how much better the world would be. Let us all give it a try. I’ll end with this: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Lauren Burke Meyer is a Severna Park native who was inspired to write Lauren’s Law as a humorous play on the well-known Murphy’s Law adage: “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”