What do you do with the mad that you feel?
This is a line from a song written by Fred Rogers and read by him to a congressional committee in 1969. Mr. Rogers borrowed the line, word for word, from a child who directed the question to him. The song continues with Mr. Rogers’ response to that very important question about feelings.
The committee’s purpose was to decide whether $20 million in federal funding for the Public Broadcasting Corporation should be preserved. In his speech, Mr. Rogers beautifully distilled the message he had delivered and would go on to deliver during each of the 895 episodes of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. He told us he liked each and every one of us just the way we were. That feelings mattered. When he said these things I trusted that he was speaking directly to me. He had that magic.
In the clip, Fred Rogers is speaking about and on behalf of children, but his message is applicable to people of all ages. Children and adults, after all, have a lot in common. For one thing, we each benefit from meaningful expressions of care now and again. (I am in the back row and apparently had asked my barber to make me look like Captain Kangaroo.)
I used to think I wasn’t good with children. I decided I couldn’t interact effectively with them because I didn’t understand them. At best they’d look at me dumbly and at worst they’d burst into tears. To feel better I decided I didn’t like them. For a couple of decades I comfortably entered a loop that, because of my lack of skills, I limited my interactions with children and was therefore prevented from developing skills.
Fast forward twenty years. Today I realize there is no “them.” I was making the mistake of generalization. I didn’t and will never understand all children. Some are just wired differently than I am (thank goodness). Coming out of my twenty years of self imposed exile from children, I still have no skills so I just speak to them like adults (omitting most of my more colorful language). Some respond like intelligent adults (my definition of intelligent, anyway) while others run and hide. The ones who speak with me are generally easy to like and the conversations flow naturally. Conversations go somewhere. The others, well, I have decided to treat them like adults with whom I don’t get along. They can find another person to sneeze on.
For better and worse, I have decided to proceed on the assumption that children are just short adults. Some might be friend material while others can’t appreciate the wonders of lugged steel bicycles. While I care about each child and their feelings, if they can’t appreciate the skill, time and love that goes into the production of, care for and responsible use of bicycles, or something along those lines, I will very likely lose interest in them and move on. Let them find a friend that cares more for bacon than pigs.
That is too mean. Better return to the example of the honorable Fred Rogers. Watching him present his case to Congress and remembering the hours I spent watching his lovely esteem-building episodes, I see I owe him an especially large thank you. It was surely from him that I gained part of the strength necessary to ask the gym teacher for permission to ride my bicycle to a nearby lake during gym class in lieu of running laps. I could have kept my needs to myself, but this time I found my voice. Permission was granted. I felt cared for. Bicycling was my thing and my thing was given the respect it deserved. Pedaling was acknowledged to be good exercise and it didn’t exacerbate the shin splints caused by running cross country. Too much special treatment can be bad, but I suspect many of us, if not all of us, could use a little extra dose of special now and then.
In small and fitful ways, that is what I try to do with this blog. I try to let people know that they are not alone and that someone cares about them. When I write about what I do and what my friends do, I hope you will see someone else cares about what you care about. That, or you will try something new and gain courage, and even new friends, as a result.
I try to write positively and quietly, again following the example of Fred Rogers. I try to be a good neighbor. I learned today that his signature sneaker change was initiated so that he could move more quietly around the set than his dress shoes allowed. A little thing, but for me a symbol of the way he thought, spoke and acted. He didn’t bop you over the head with his message, but if you figuratively leaned into the television you learned so much and were loved even more.
Thanks Mr. Rogers!
By the way, I have a wonderful coincidence to share. Yesterday we received a package from one of the friends about whom I was writing yesterday. The gift giver was the girl pedaling with the video camera through India. She sent tea, cardamom pods and dried red chilies. I used each ingredient in preparing a meal consisting of spiced brown rice (cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, garam masala, peas and salt), a cauliflower curry (asafetida, cumin, onion, ginger, tumeric, corriander, dried red chilies, amchur and salt) and chai (cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, black peppers, fennel seeds, almond milk and tea). If you’ve never made your own chai masala (masala means spice mix, right?), I encourage you to try. The flavors are so bright! Each dish was worth well more than the modest effort I put into it, but then I must consider my friend schlepping the spices back with her from India. I am glad the dishes came out so well and did honor to her efforts and thoughtfulness. Thank you for the wonderful gifts!