Grace Notes

Scatter the darkness

When I walk my dog Chance on winter mornings, usually just before sunrise, the clear sky is such a pale blue that it almost looks white. The snow-covered ground provides the illusion that I am walking within a huge monochromatic sphere. The only sounds are the crunch of snow beneath my boots, the occasional “caw” of a crow from its treetop perch, and the noise of passing traffic.

As the sun rises and its rays hit the tops of trees, they turn a golden brown. These are the morning gifts of the fallow season, when animals are hibernating and perennials are dormant.

Jean Johansson

Jean Johansson

Through his television program, Rogers dedicated his life to helping children feel good about who they were, to know that they were special for just being themselves.

We have passed the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Even though I realize that we have plenty of winter left, moving past this date on the calendar always gives me a psychological boost. I like the opportunity for cocooning that winter presents, but I also crave the light that is doled out so sparingly in winter. When I have spent time in northern Minnesota in the winter, I am always surprised to see the sun just skimming the tops of trees as it moves from east to west on the southern horizon, progressing from sunrise to sunset.

Commonalities of human experience

Recently I watched a documentary on PBS about the late Fred Rogers, creator and host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, broadcast on PBS from 1968-2001. Benjamin Wagner, an MTV news producer who knew Mr. Rogers personally, made the documentary. It included interviews that Wagner did with other people who had a personal relationship with Mr. Rogers, including the late Tim Russert, Linda Ellerbee, and Susan Stamberg. Through their words, I learned that Mr. Rogers was just as nice in real life as he was on his show.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood debuted the year after I had graduated from high school, so my experience with viewing the show was with my children. Truthfully, I’m not sure they appreciated the show as much as I did.

Watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was the exact opposite of watching the fast-paced, loud action of Sesame Street. Mr. Rogers would speak directly to his television audience, and I loved his gentle, soft-spoken delivery, his refusal to hurry. The words of the songs he would sing during each show, all of which he wrote, were geared to the children watching, but I appreciated the lessons they were teaching.

“Won’t You be My Neighbor” and “It’s Such a Good Feeling (to Know You’re Alive),” the songs that opened and closed each show, are most familiar to people, but songs like “What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel?,” “Wishes Don’t Make Things Come True,” and “It’s You I Like,” reinforced the commonality of the human experience and the fears we all face.

Safe in dark times

The experience that served as the catalyst that set Fred Rogers on the career path he chose was that of being bullied as a child for being overweight. The fact that adults told him he should just act like the bullying didn’t bother him, in effect deny his feelings, only reinforced his anguish. Imagining that anything could make Mr. Rogers mad is nigh impossible, but as an adult he said that what really makes him angry is when a person demeans someone else.

Through his television program, Rogers dedicated his life to helping children feel good about who they were, to know that they were special for just being themselves, and that they would be safe and cared for by adults. And for that, generations of children and their parents are grateful. Mr. Rogers died in 2003, but his passion for teaching children to love themselves and others only becomes more relevant with each passing year.

As day draws to a close, Chance and I are out walking again, this time in the dark. The world seems silent. The air is crisp, the sky is clear, and the barely waxing moon is hanging low in a cobalt blue western sky.

A new year has begun, and the gift of kindness and understanding is ours to give. God knows that we could all use a bit of that ourselves.

 

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