Wednesday, August 07, 2013

"The Greatest Lesson Of My Life"

After a week in Australia, I'm in love with the land and the people I've met: there is so much natural beauty without and within. I'm especially impressed with the number wonderful, thoughtful, committed people here working in early childhood. It is indeed an inspiration. If there is one thing, however, that has caused me disappointment so far (aside from having yet to see one of those 7-foot tall wild kangaroos) is that no one here knows about Mister Rogers.

There are some 1500 posts here on this blog, of which 30 are tagged with the label "Mister Rogers," but in all honesty, none of them would likely exist without this incredible man. I will, of course, never be mistaken for him, but I take inspiration from him every day, a man who almost single-handedly made television not only okay, but essential.

I've already written about how this man and his straight-forward simplicity continues to influence my work with young children in a post entitled Won't You Be My Neighbor? And I've also shared how much and how powerfully he shaped the inner life of a generation of Americans from Hollywood to Washington, DC in a post called Mister Rogers. Both of these posts include videos if you've never seen him in action.

Today, I simply want to share Mister Rogers with my Australian friends. A reader recently sent me a link to this typical internet collection of 21 Heartwarming And Beautiful Facts About Mister Rogers That Will Brighten Even The Crummiest Day, which to me proves that even here in the cynical, snarky online world, this man and his message continues to speak to our hearts.

I'm going to finish by mentioning a fact about him of which I was entirely unaware until I was an adult. He was an ordained Presbyterian minister, something he never revealed on his program, but, in hindsight, should have been apparent to anyone watching, because he lived every word of his faith every day. As I've been traveling around Australia speaking, I've been reminded again and again of this story:

One summer, midway through Seminary. I was on a weekend vacation in a little town in New England. I decided on Sunday to go hear a visiting preacher in the little town's chapel. I heard the worst sermon I could have every imagined. I sat in the pew thinking, "He's going against every rule they're teaching us about preaching. What a waste of time!" That's what I thought until the very end of the sermon when I happened to see the person beside me with tears in her eyes whispering, "He said exactly what I needed to hear." It was then that I knew something very important had happened in that service. The woman beside me had come in need. Somehow the words of that poorly crafted sermon had been translated into a message that spoke to her heart. On the other hand, I had come in judgement, and I heard nothing but faults.

It was a long time before I realized it, but that sermon's effect on the person beside me turned out to be one of the greatest lessons of my life. Thanks to that preacher and listener-in-need, I now know that the space between a person doing his or her best to deliver a message of good news and the needy listener is holy ground. Recognizing that seems to have allowed me to forgive myself for being the accuser that day. In fact, that New England Sunday experience has fueled my desire to be a better advocate, a better "neighbor," wherever I am.

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crankydee said...

I don't know why we didn't get Mr Rogers in Australia and man we got a lot of American television. I am learning more and more about his life and how he has influenced peoples lives

Tobi Nielsen said...

Thank you for posting this--I love Mr. Rogers.

Rachel said...

What a good reminder of the best TV show of my childhood. I would sit with my friends as a child and talk about his TV shows. :)

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