PASSING NOTES: <span>Won’t you be my neighbor?</span>  

“Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”—Fred Rogers

The official trailer for the new Mister Rogers movie dropped this week.

“Dropped,” you see, is how the young people say “was released.” If you don’t believe me, because, for instance, you are over 40, you can go check this out on the interwebs at Urban Dictionary. But don’t spend too much time there because that place will rot your brain.

Also, people over 40 running around calling each other woke and describing HuffPo articles as lit and GOAT is not what the world needs right now.

The English teacher in me kind of likes the term “dropped” because any time you can eliminate a helping verb and preserve meaning and intent, writing becomes more dynamic.

(I really wrote that last sentence just to make sure you understood I’m not actually cool. Just so we’re clear.)

At any rate, this November Tom Hanks will be portraying Mister Rogers in a biopic of the public television icon called “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

I grew up with Mister Rogers, as did anyone in my generation. His show started national syndication five years before my birth and ceased production the year after I married. He was as much a portion of my childhood as almost anyone I knew personally.

In fact, other than my parents and my nanny, who cared for me while they were at work, I can’t think of anyone else that I saw every weekday without fail for years on end, and I probably watched Mister Rogers until I was 9 or 10 years old. I found him comforting then and I still do.

I miss Mister Rogers. Our times cry out for him. So I think this is a good time to be honoring his memory, and Tom Hanks is capable of doing him justice.

“Mister Rogers Neighborhood” ran for 895 episodes and remains one of the longest-running shows in PBS history, and since a huge portion of the show was Fred Rogers speaking directly to the camera, and since he also wrote many books and gave many speeches, Mister Rogers has become one of the most quotable people in American history.

He spent much of his career studying child development and championing the value of play and make believe in children’s development, writing many books for parents and families.

But he considered his life’s work to be teaching children how to process and value and share their emotions in constructive, rather than destructive, ways.

“There's no ‘should’ or ‘should not’ when it comes to having feelings,” he said. “They're part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.”

It’s for that reason that Rogers wrote special episodes dealing with particularly challenging or frightening topics, from major national events like the assassination of Bobby Kennedy to common childhood hurdles like divorce or the death of a pet.

Mister Rogers knew then what Brene Brown’s modern social research has told us since and likely what the Christian Gospels and the many rites of confession and reconciliation they have given birth to have been telling us for thousands of years: people suffering from guilt and shame are not their best selves. They are self-destructive at best and more likely angry, defensive, and aggressive.

“I don't think anyone can grow unless he's loved exactly as he is now,” Rogers once said, “appreciated for what he is rather than what he will be.”

If that sounds a lot like Christianity, it’s worth noting that Mister Rogers was, in fact, an ordained Presbyterian minister, who went into the entertainment industry rather than the ministry after seminary only because he hated the new medium of television so much that he felt compelled to find some way to use it for good.

I’m glad that Mister Rogers is becoming cool again. If he were alive today, the young people would describe him as woke and maybe even the GOAT, and he would know what those words mean (although I like to think he probably wouldn’t use them, but who am I to say?) because he listened to the young and old alike with, as he put it, his ears and his heart.

He saw the best in people, and he never stopped to ask himself if they deserved it or not because either we all deserve it or none of us do. Such is the nature of all things sacred, things like mercy and kindness and Grace.

Our times call out for those things, too.

“I believe,” Mister Rogers said, “that appreciation is a holy thing—that when we look for what's best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we're doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we're participating in something sacred.”

I always love to hear from readers. You can write to me care of the Times-Tribune or reach out on our website or social media. Or follow me on Twitter @ChristeeBentley or on Instagram at christee.bentley.

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