Grateful Faces

Whenever I ask someone these days, “How are you?” the answer is almost always the same: “I’m too busy!” There’s no question that this is a particularly busy time of the year, but busy seems to be the best description of our lives throughout the year now. Which brings me to Fred Rogers. Several weeks ago, I saw the inspiring movie It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, with Tom Hanks as the incarnation of Mr. Rogers. The movie was not another biopic of Fred Rogers, like the one that came out last year, but a story of how Rogers’s kindness, empathy, and decency help to heal a cynical journalist of his childhood wounds.

What I noticed in the movie is what I have always noticed about Mr. Rogers—the almost abnormally slow, deliberate pace of his speech. When he speaks to you (and as he looks into the camera, it feels as if he is speaking directly to you), it’s as if he is able to slow time itself, allowing you to pay attention to what is going on around you and—most important—what is going on inside you. There is a healing quality to slowing down and feeling whatever you are feeling.

Rogers played this out openly and intentionally before a national audience in 1997 when he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmy’s. Rather than give the typical acceptance speech, he slowed down time by asking the members of the audience to take 10 seconds “to think of the people who have helped you become who you are, those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life.” A few Sundays ago, we took a full minute for this exercise. Before my mind’s eye, one by one appeared the faces of multiple people from my childhood, adolescence, young adult years, middle-aged years, and up to the present—my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors, public school teachers, Sunday School teachers, ministers, Boy Scout leaders, professors, therapists, church members—a virtual parade of supporters, guides, and cheerleaders, wishing the best for me and loving me into being. Then the parade ended with Mr. Rogers’s slow, patient voice: “Whomever you’ve been thinking about, imagine how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they’ve made.”

When life gets too busy, slow it down for just a minute and see all the grateful faces and feel your own gratitude.

With gratitude,

Neal

 

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