Just a thought... When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." [Fred Rogers]
On Monday night, just as news from Manchester about the Ariana Grande concert bombing was beginning to break, I saw a few tweets with the hashtag #lookforthehelpers. I was in the dark until I read a series of some 30 tweets later that evening from an entertainment journalist whom I follow named Anthony Breznican.
He was remembering Mister Rogers, as next year marks the fiftieth anniversary of his show going on the air. In a series of tweets, he told a story that moved me so much that I read it aloud to Rob. I thought about it all day yesterday and wanted to share it with you today. So, here are the words of Anthony Breznican about a gentle man in a cardigan and how "sometimes you're right where you need to be."
Fred Rogers was from Pittsburgh, my hometown, and my generation grew up loving this man, who taught us to be kind above all. Fred Rogers was the real thing. That gentle soul? It was no act. As I got older, I lost touch with the show, which kept running through 2001. But in college, one day, I rediscovered it...
I was having a hard time. The future seemed dark. I was struggling, lonely, dealing with a lot of broken pieces and not adjusting well. (Breznican goes on) It was easy to feel hopeless. One span was especially bad. Walking out of the dorm, I heard familiar music: "Won't you be my neighbour..."
The TV was playing in the empty common room. Mr. Rogers was there, asking me what I do with the mad I feel. (I had lots to spare. Still do.) It feels silly to say - it felt silly then - but I stood mesmerized. His show felt like a cool hand on a hot head. I left feeling better.
Days later, I get in the elevator at the paper to ride down to the lobby. The doors open (says Mr. Breznican). Mr. Rogers is standing there. For real. I can't believe it. I get back in and he nods at me. I do back. I think he could sense a geek-out coming. But I kept it together. Almost.
The doors open, he lets me go out first. I go, but turn around. "Mr. Rogers...I don't mean to bother you. But I wanted to say thanks."
He smiles, but this has to happen to him every 10 feet. "Did you grow up as one of my neighbors?" I felt like crying. Yeah. I was. Opens his arms, lifting his satchel for a hug. "It's good to see you again neighbor." I got to hug Mr. Rogers, y'all! I pull it together. We're walking out and we made more small talk. As he went out the door, I said (in a kind of rambling gush) that I'd stumbled on the show again recently, when I really needed it. So I just said, "Thanks for that."
Mr. Rogers nodded. He paused. He undid his scarf. He motioned towards the window, and sat down on the ledge. This is what set Mr. Rogers apart. No one else does this. He goes, "Do you want to tell me what was upsetting you?"
So I sat. I told him my grandfather had just died. He was one of the few good things I had. I felt adrift. Brokenhearted. I like to think I didn't go on and on, but pretty soon he was telling me about his grandfather and a boat the old man bought him as a kid. Mr. Rogers asked how long ago Pap had died. It was a couple of months. His grandfather was obviously gone decades. He still wished the old man was here. Wished he still had the boat. "You'll never stop missing the people you love", Mr. Rogers said.
The grandfather gave Mr. Rogers the row boat as reward for something. I forget what. Grades or graduation. Something important. He didn't have either now, but he had that work ethic, that knowledge that the old man encouraged with his gift. "Those things never go away," Mr. Rogers said.
I'm sure my eyes looked like stewed tomatoes. Finally, I said thank you. And I apologized if I made him late for an appointment.
"Sometimes you're right where you need to be," he said.
I felt like I had to share with you Mr. Breznican's encounter with Mr. Rogers. The whole story just felt like a hug or, perhaps more appropriately, a big comfy cardigan. Some days we can all use both.
Coincidentally, I have in my own front hall closet a big blue cardigan that was my grandfather's - and he was born on this day. May 24th is also Mike Cooper's birthday. A big hug and thank you to him, too.
We'll have some more Seattle for you here tomorrow. We hit the highs - and the lows - and you'll see what I mean in Thursday's journal.
(@erindavis on Twitter)