Every time a new tragedy, domestic or international, befalls humanity, a hopeful quote from Fred Rogers begins to circulate.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news,” says Rogers, “my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
While the world is attempting to stop a pandemic and millions are confined to their homes, it can be difficult to feel hopeful at all. Before I left New York to stay with my parents, the city felt like something from an apocalypse movie. The streets (and pharmacy/grocery shelves) were eerily empty. You couldn’t get your BEC from the bodega or meet your friends for Sunday brunch or Friday happy hour. Going out and being around people is New York City’s bread and butter. You don’t live in NYC to be apart–you live in NYC to be together. Together with the world, arts, culture, and people. Social distancing, quarantining, and self-isolating took away the blood of the city.
Sure, I still saw people. In fact, the grocery store and CVS were probably more crowded than usual. Yet everyone’s anxiety and suspicion, turned toward one another and taken out on each other, made it clear that this was not our normal weekend shopping trip. The collective but individualistic thought was: Anyone could be a carrier, trust no one.
Except, that’s not how people get through things. Of course, it’s called for to be overly cautious, but does being careful mean being cruel? Yelling at postal clerks and hoarding canned goods?
It felt like the perfect time for me to start Maxwell King’s biography of Fred Rogers, The Good Neighbor. I needed a reminder of gentleness and kindness, a role model of caring for one another.
Maxwell King paints an exquisite portrait of the man behind Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the iconic PBS children’s show that aired for almost 40 years. While King’s biography is certainly dense, it is detailed and never dry. Anecdotes illustrate facts of Rogers’ character, and the history of Rogers’ life reveal how the quiet man became a media giant that revolutionized children’s media.
The Good Neighbor is a lesson in not only Rogers’ life story, but in the development of children’s media and the practice of human kindness as well. From every angle, I found this book interesting and informative. Despite my lack-luster reading experience (finishing this book took a little discipline), what I gained from it was well worth sitting through the sometimes repetitive text. This book may be better ingested a chapter here and a chapter there while reading a novel or memoir at the same time, allowing you to take in the information piece by piece without committing to intake the wealth of information all at once.
What touches me most about Rogers was his commitment to people. Every person and every child deserves love, to be listened to, and to feel special (because Rogers genuinely believed they are special). Connecting with people is perhaps one of the most important things we can do, and we are now being challenged to find new ways to connect when we cannot meet in person.
In a blog post for To Write Love on Her Arms, Jamie Tworkowski writes, “Conversations will not be cancelled. Relationships will not be cancelled. Love will not be cancelled…Hope will not be cancelled.” Despite global closures and cancellations, we must hold onto the good that remains and innovate how we connect.
For The Good Neighbor, I baked red velvet cookies (recipe by Just So Tasty), inspired by the bright red sweater Mister Rogers famously wore each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and by the idea that I wanted to bake something shareable. After finishing these cookies (which were dangerously easy to whip up for something that tastes so decadent), I bagged some up to leave on the doorsteps of my neighbors, hoping the yummy treats will bring a smile to their families.
Reader, won’t you be my neighbor?