Moments after two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon yesterday, my Twitter and Facebook feeds were filled with prayers and information (and, sadly, misinformation).
But a few moments after that, my feed began to fill up with the comforting words and image of Fred Rogers – in particular, this one:
After the initial draw of comfort, I began to wonder why I was seeing Mr. Rogers so much…. and then it hit me.
You see, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood premiered on PBS stations in 1968 – the year I turned 4. My generation did, literally, grow up with Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Electric Company, and Zoom. These programs were created for MY generation; they weren’t leftovers like Captain Kangaroo or Romper Room (not to take anything away from those shows, but they weren’t created with my generation in mind). People who knew this new generation of kids was a little bit different and needed a little attention created these amazing shows for us.
Without realizing it, I think Fred Rogers in particular understood GenX; as I’ve previously written (and as Strauss & Howe point out), the Nomadic generations tend to be smaller, marginalized, mistrusted, overshadowed by the previous Idealist generations. It’s no wonder that films about us highlight our pragmatism in the face of unfairness (Pretty in Pink), our willingness to break rules in order to get ahead (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), and our feelings of inadequacy (The Breakfast Club). We were a generation overshadowed by a huge cohort of noisy, eager Boomers… and we were growing up in a world that was crumbling around us without our really understanding (JFK/MLK/RFK/Malcolm X assassinations, Vietnam, Watergate, LA riots, Chicago DNC, etc.). We needed someone to tell us it was all going to be okay. We needed someone to value us just the way we were, just for who we were.
And there was Fred Rogers. As good and loving a man in real life as he was on television. I think we instinctively knew he was genuine; sure, as we got into our teens, there was something rather old fashioned about him that we mocked a little. But the truth of Fred Rogers is that when no one else did, he valued us. He answered every letter, and showed genuine care in public appearances. He spoke directly to us through the camera with a love that was palpable. He taught us to care for one another in a way that wasn’t dismissive or flashy.
And so now, in times of trouble and strife, my generation turns to Mr. Rogers. He still makes us feel valued, safe, ready to take on the world: “You make each day a special day. You know how, by just your being you. There’s only one person in this whole world like you. And people can like you exactly as you are.”
Each day (after 1972) he’d end the program with a song I still remember all the words to:
It’s such a good feeling to know you’re alive.
It’s such a happy feeling: You’re growing inside.
And when you wake up ready to say,
“I think I’ll make a snappy new day.”
It’s such a good feeling, a very good feeling,
The feeling you know that I’ll be back,
When the day is new, and I’ll have more ideas for you.
And you’ll have things you’ll want to talk about.
I will too.
Thank you, Mr. Rogers.