The Neighborhood

neighborhoodWhen my wife Muri and I were looking at our current house in Anaheim Hills, the owner told us it was a very friendly neighborhood that frequently had neighborhood block parties.  My Inner Curmudgeon didn’t see that as much of a reason to buy the house and I was inclined to agree.   But otherwise, the house was just what we wanted so we bought it.   Here we are, 17 years later and there hasn’t been a single block party.  The neighbors are friendly enough but not in a get-together-for-the-holidays kind of way.   Consequently, on Wednesday we were having a minor case of the All-Alone-with-Nothing-to-Do-on-the-Fourth Blues.  A movie is always a good place to escape the blues on a hot California day but, as usual, our choice was limited by the fact that we see a lot of (too many?) movies.  Limited to Jurassic Park Episode 132 or Won’t You Be My Neighbor.   Hmmm.  CGI dinosaurs or Mr. Rogers.   WYBMN had unbelievably good reviews and I’d rather have a sharp stick in the eye than another overdose of CGI, so Mr. Rogers won out.   But I have to admit, the thought of an hour and a half of Mr. Rogers gave me pause.

Like many people who have seen the film, I not only found myself laughing and smiling, I found myself crying as I watched scenes from his show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, his life and how his childhood influenced his attitudes toward children.  My wife Muri were talking to another couple in the movie line last night (yes, another movie), a couple much younger than us, and they too were surprised to find themselves crying during the film.  The young woman suggested that is was just nostalgia, since she grew up watching the show, and perhaps that was part of it for her.  But I like what Davis Brooks says in his New York Times opinion piece, Fred Rogers and the Loveliness of the Little GoodOften people are moved to tears by sadness, he said, but occasionally people are moved to tears by goodness.  His article, which you can find here, says everything I hoped to say about the film and the man and I’d highly recommend it.  All  can add is how it touched me personally.

Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood was at its peak during the years that my children  were growing up and I can remember them occasionally watching the show.  But I seem to remember a lot more Sesame Street and Romper Room, along the expected assortment of non-educational children’s programs.  I seem to remember finding Fred Rogers a little creepy and I wonder if that contributed danielto how little my kids watched him.   I wish I’d sat longer and listened to some of the show sequences replayed in the film, Fred Rogers talking or singing about troubling events in his simple way, reassuring them that they are OK.   Or singing through his ever-present puppet, Daniel the Tiger, about worrying if he might be a mistake or not good enough.  That he touched children in a way different than perhaps any other adult showed in the way they responded to him, with openness and love, as if he was one of them.

Two scenes blew me away, as we used to say in my younger days.  The first a scene from his 1981 show during which he talked to Jeff Erlanger, who was confined to a wheelchair and about to undergo major back surgery.  The way Jeff opened up to him, expressed his fears and his quiet bravery … and the way Rogers not only understood but felt his emotions … brought tears to my eyes.

Years later, Jeff would return to Rogers’ induction into the Television Hall of Fame as an adult, still confined to a wheelchair and still touched by that moment.   In the second scene, he was being interviewed by Tom Snyder.  Snyder was the hot news host back then and you could tell he was slightly cynical about Roger’s very open demeanor.   At some point, Rogers began talking to him about childhood through Daniel.   Snyder gamely chatted with Daniel for a few minutes, then sat back, touched, his eyes misty.   What came across in the film that Rogers touched people … not just children … because he was totally genuine and gave them his full attention.

As my wife, Muri, and I left the theater, I said to her, I feel like I’ve been a bad man.   Yes, poorly said in an emotional moment.  But the film did make me see that I could be a so much better man, that we could all be so much better people if we could just absorb a small bit of Rogers’ love of people, especially children.  Near the end of the film, one of Rogers’ staff said that sometimes there would be a child in a group about to meet Mr. Rogers that was, in his words, a little prick.  He felt that perhaps he should warn Rogers about this particular child …  then, after a few minutes with Rogers, the child would be talking quietly with him, happy to be not only seen but accepted.  Couldn’t our world use a little more of that these days … and not just for kids?

Explore posts in the same categories: feeling older, movies

Tags: , , , , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: