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“I believe so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex”  Fred (Mr.) Rogers

 Happy Birthday Mr. Rogers…you will always be my friend
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I was born in Ohio, and at age 6 moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While our home was being built, we lived out of moving van boxes in an apartment close to the building site. It was the winter of 1963, and I remember it as being very cold and lonely. Many times I would wake up in the middle of the night with excruciating stomach pain which we later found out was a spastic colon due to stress. I missed my friends, my bedroom, and my sense of safety and security. My father was busy with his new important job, my sister was just enough older that she didn’t want anything to do with me, and my mother was busy managing the construction of our home. During that difficult time, the one bright spot in my life was coming home from school to watch Mr. Rogers. For half an hour everyday I didn’t feel alone because Mr. Rogers WAS my friend. At that time the show was black and white and still local, originating from Pittsburgh.

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Time went by and when I grew up and had my own children, I welcomed Mr. Rogers back into my life, this time to teach my children about kindness, compassion, and being a good neighbor.

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He taught my kids to slow down, and that they were perfect just the way they were; “I like you just the way you are,” we would often hear him say. My children grew up and I’m not sure where the time went, but before I knew it, I was watching the news and hearing that Mr. Rogers had died. I was deeply saddened. It was like losing the family member who could always be counted on to give the best guidance.

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Last summer I was listening to NPR and heard the tail-end of an interview with Benjamin Wagner, an MTV producer, singer, songwriter who created a documentary called, Mr. Rogers and Me. He was very emotional as he shared his admiration, and to be honest, I was worried that it was just another piece of mockery. Despite that I immediately got on Amazon and bought the film. The day the DVD arrived, I tore it open and watched it. Artful, and a revealing window into Fred Roger’s world and life’s work, my expectations were far surpassed. Trust me…it’s well worth watching.

From the film, I learned that as a child he was the victim of bullying. Overweight and sickly, he was a target for name calling and threats. His parents advised him to ignore the  abuse, telling him he was better then they were. His feelings of loneliness, sadness, and anger were not validated. Mr. Rogers said it made him “really mad” that the kids couldn’t see past his “shyness and fatness” and he was troubled by not being given permission to feel his emotions. After many years of struggling, he decided to reclaim his power by choosing to look for what was “essential and invisible to the eye” in everyone he met (the quintessential quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery‘s “The Little Prince“). From that point on he devoted his life to the lifting of others.

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In 1969 he testified before Congress for Children’s Public Television which was in it’s infancy, and won a grant for twenty million dollars. In addition to his B.A in Music and a graduate degree in Divinity, he was the recipient of forty honorary degrees.

Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian minister, but never had a church. He saw children’s television as his ministry, and taught principles of acceptance, kindness and respect.  Memories from his childhood inspired his most important teaching which was; “whatever is mentionable is manageable.” In teaching us to slow down, think a moment, accept our emotions, and be grateful, he embodied the spirit of mindfulness long before the mental health community endorsed it for its many physical and mental benefits. Those who knew him best said he was completely genuine in all places, in all times, and in everything he did.  He provided self-esteem and safety for millions of children and their parents. “You can either be an accuser or an advocate,” was his creed. Being true to his teaching, Fred Rogers was an advocate for humanity and peace; a true Pioneer of Peace.

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