I have been a fan of the movies since I was very young. I’ve seen all manner of movies on the silver screen, from scary and thrilling, to sci-fi and war movies, to drama and rom-coms. I’ve seen Disney and musicals and Pixar movies. In fact, I have forgotten all the movies I’ve seen—there’s just been so many. Some extremely good. Some very bad. I have watched the Oscars every year since I was 15 years old. I have been in crowded theaters, empty theaters, drive in theaters. Beautiful theaters and broken down theaters. I have watched people walk out of theaters in a disappointed huff. I have seen other people stay in their seats to watch the credits, hoping for a few seconds more. No matter old or young, rich or poor, movies cross cultures and borders, languages and belief systems. They are blind to skin color and gender. Movies are part of the human experience because they portray the human experience. Movies reveal our truest selves to us, and perhaps that is partly why we love the movie stars—we see our ideal forms reflected back to us by them like magic, and then they themselves become these magical creatures that seem to transcend their own humanness in our eyes, for better or for worse. And movies…the movies tell us the story of us…all of us. There’s nowhere they cannot go, and no one they cannot present to us. Someday, hundreds of years from now, perhaps historians might look back at humanity’s love affair with the movies and learn who we were and why.
Therefore, being the old movie soul that I am, when I tell you I saw something extraordinary at the movies the other night, you might find my words credible. It was extraordinary in its simplicity and honesty. It was natural, completely natural, and very real. I took my mother to see “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” If you haven’t heard about it, it stars Tom Hanks as the iconic Mr Rogers. The movie was a simple narrative that examined complex issues of family dynamics and the power of forgiveness, while exposing Mr Rogers for who he was—a kind-hearted, modest man whose love for his fellow human beings exuded from him with such force that it literally changed people’s hearts and lives. And people loved him back. Everyone who met him liked him instantly. It’s a story worth seeing and knowing, because it provides proof that the dark places in the human heart can be driven away by the illuminating power of simple, genuine kindness.
And I don’t know what it was exactly. Perhaps it was the powerful story of a truly good man, or maybe it was because such a beloved actor, Tom Hanks, revealed Mr Rogers to his audience with his usual deft brilliance. Maybe it was both. But it was a palpable thing that scented the air and caused a peace to fall over the audience. And then people stood up to leave after the movie ended, slowly, and effected—all of them. People who were strangers paused to speak to the people around them. My mother found herself engaged in a warm conversation with one couple, while people all around me were chatting and smiling and then sifting toward the doors. Wishing each other a safe drive home and a Merry Christmas. It was something I had never seen before. It was as though the entire theater was filled with a large group of friends. I watched it happening around me, astonished, and then realized Mr Rogers’ message had been heard and understood. “If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person” (Fred Rogers). Everyone there took a piece of everyone they met home with them. It was a lovely, humbling experience.
But what does this have to do with battling the Monster day by day? Yes, it was a “feel good” movie, but surely not worthy to stand against the dark, ominous Monster. Why mention it at all? Well, again, it was a story of the power of love, kindness, forgiveness, courage, and human frailty. Sometimes, often times, battling the Monster can take its toll on the mind and spirit…the struggle itself can become embittering. Fatigue. Misery. Melancholy. We can feel so alone in the world. We sometimes wonder how much longer we can withstand. I look at my husband and believe him when he says “I’m done. I can’t go on much longer.” He’s not afraid. He’s not looking for the easy way out. He’s just bone tired. In these times, I find myself frustrated and sharp. My smooth edges vanish, and I am now a thorn bush. But I always long for the softness to return so that the exasperation goes away. I am reminded that while the price of love, true love, is sometimes more than we are willing to pay, it is never more than we are able to pay. So I choose…every day. And so must you all who battle the Monster.
The strength to endure with your beloved until the very end is comprised wholly of love, just as it is the very same love that gives your beloved a sense of peace and security. When life becomes all said and done, there’s nothing more that remains but love and everyday simple kindnesses. It is the best, most evolved and fully realized intimacy you will ever know in your relationship with your precious dying one. The Monster cannot compete with it, and the more he roars, the stronger your love grows.
Mr Rogers talks about remembering those who molded you into who you are. He said, “From the time you were very little, you’ve had people who have smiled you into smiling, people who have talked you into talking, sung you into singing, loved you into loving” (Fred Rogers). To know this truth at your core, is an essential component of “soul health.” Also, it fills anew the bottomless well of love you have inside and will sustain you through the very worst of times—both life and death. Trust in it and believe. I know my husband is the one who put a song in my heart, and I am changed forever. Love does that, doesn’t it?
Thank you for your words of wisdom, Mr Rogers, you are still the best neighbor.