Thursday, February 27, 2003

GOODBYE, NEIGHBOR: It is a sad, sad day. Fred McFeely Rogers, known to all of us as "Mr. Rogers", died this morning at the age of 74.

I am so sad that he has passed away, but so grateful that he lived. It is hard to think of anyone else with such decency and grace, someone whose gifts to our world (and to my own growth) have been so wonderful, so unselfish, so positive. Mr. Rogers taught us that each of us is special, not for what we have but for who we are, that kindness is paramount virtue, that each of us is worthy of love, and that we have nothing to fear when we are surrounded by that love. So long as you believe in yourself, he taught, you can never go down the drain.

Mr. Rogers gave the commencement address at Dartmouth last year. In it, he told this story:
Our world hangs like a magnificent jewel in the vastness of space. Every one of us is a part of that jewel. A facet of that jewel. And in the perspective of infinity, our differences are infinitesimal. We are intimately related. May we never even pretend that we are not. Have you heard my favorite story that came from the Seattle Special Olympics? Well, for the 100-yard dash there were nine contestants, all of them so-called physically or mentally disabled. All nine of them assembled at the starting line and at the sound of the gun, they took off. But not long afterward one little boy stumbled and fell and hurt his knee and began to cry. The other eight children heard him crying; they slowed down, turned around and ran back to him. Every one of them ran back to him. One little girl with Down Syndrome bent down and kissed the boy and said, "This'll make it better." And the little boy got up and he the rest of the runners linked their arms together and joyfully walked to the finish line. They all finished the race at the same time. And when they did, everyone in that stadium stood up and clapped and whistled and cheered for a long, long, time. People who were there are still telling the story with great delight. And you know why. Because deep down, we know that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win too. Even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.

You can read the whole speech via this link.

Mr. Rogers' lessons live on in the Internet, and the magic of videotape. Go here to read his thoughts on discussing potty training, dental visits, divorce, death, and other matters with your children. And if you'd like advice on discussing his death with them, click here.

Mr. Rogers is probably the one person about whom no member of my cynical generation has ever expressed sarcasm, mockery or doubt. He has been a constant, a true blessing, creating a neighborhood in which each of us feel like we belong, where everything's going to be just fine.

Thank you, Mr. Rogers. Thank you.

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