On a foggy Tuesday morning in 1928, a boy was born into a rich family in Pittsburgh.
This boy, like many of the other boys that lived in his neighborhood, was the son of a wealthy businessman who provided for his family. The side effect of this lifestyle was that the boy rarely saw his father. As the boy started grade school, he developed a problem with his weight and was made fun of by the other boys and girls in his class. At this point, there are two ways that the story could go…
Ending 1: The boy needed support, but there was none to be given at home. Instead, he went home and cried in his room, wondering why he was so different. This led to a deep-rooted battle with loneliness that the boy would try to shake as he developed into a teenager. However, the problem only worsened. By the time the boy was 17, it seemed like no one cared. He began drinking heavily to numb the reality he was facing. Over the years, the drinking became less effective and went to harder substances to escape from himself. On a tragic birthday morning, the boy looked himself in the mirror. He was now 28 years old, and couldn’t recognize himself anymore. The drugs had thinned his face and he slid down the wall, landing on the bathroom floor. The boy was now a man. He put his hands to his face and began to cry, wishing that he could find that little boy within. He wished he could go back and have a conversation with the boy. He wished he could tell the boy, “Son, you are enough.”
Fortunately, this was not the ending that the true story took, but it is the far more common ending. The struggle of many people in the west has nothing to do with economic status but more to do with the pain of loneliness. Harvard University recently released the results of a 75 year long study on the topic of happiness . They recruited men from the worst slums in America along with some of the wealthiest men in America. There was even a future U.S. President that was tracked through the years. Their results found that neither money nor fame had any affect on a person’s contentment. A person from a slum had the same capacity for contentment as a wealthy stock trader. The only thing that differentiated the happy from the unhappy was, PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS. It wasn’t the quantity of “friends” or whether a person was married, but happiness had everything to do with the quality of a person’s relationships. Happiness is not far away, but it lies behind the frightening door of being truly known by someone else.
Ending 2: The real man from the story above, was an American icon. The man was indeed born to a wealthy family and was severely bullied in school. The difference between this ending and the one above is that, after the tears cleared, the man took away some crucial lessons from his childhood. As the boy turned into a teenager, he was given positive figures in his life that reminded him that he was special and liked just the way he was. They revealed the love that Jesus had for him. This developed the boys confidence and in high school he graduated at the top of his class. When he turned 21 years old, he went went to Rollins College and met the love of his life. Upon graduation, the two lovers moved to Pittsburgh and pursued their shared dream of producing television. On his lunch breaks working at the local T.V. station, the man would walk down the street and take classes at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Through this, he met Margaret McFarland, a child psychologist who revealed in him a passion for struggling children. You see, the man had never forgotten the scared little boy he used to be. The man knew he had to do something to help the modern day child, so he pursued a new dream. His vision was to create a T.V. show that addressed the many struggles that children go through. So he started out, going through a failed try with a network in Canada, but he did not quit. Five years later, the man would address the U.S. Senate presenting his idea and addressing the need for a new kind of children’s show in the United States. The Senate was on board within 6 minutes and granted him 20 million dollars for his project. Over 31 seasons later, the scared little boy had developed into a man and he changed the lives of many. With a Christ-like attitude, the man addressed issues such as racism, war, divorce, death, and assassination with young children whom he developed trust with. When he died, he was known for his loving and inclusive heart, welcoming all into his neighborhood.
The man, was Fred Rogers from Mister Rogers Neighborhood. Whom many have known and loved.
Inclusion was the message that Fred Rogers preached. Rogers famously said that everything comes from a place of “love or the lack of it” and in 1981, Mr. Rogers had a young boy named Jeff Erlanger on the program. Jeff had a disability and was crippled from his legs down, but this didn’t stop Mr. Rogers from developing a relationship with the boy through the years. Rogers would constantly have the boy on the show and reaffirm the boy saying, “I like you, just the way you are.” Something we could all hear more of.
Each of us has the opportunity to be the light in each other’s lives. Christ preached the simple gospel that reached out to the broken people of the world. If you look closely, we are all broken, and it’s our brokenness that makes us human. Fred Rogers could have easily believed the lies that were fed to him early on and ended up like the man in the first story. Instead, Fred was encountered by an impenetrable force that we all hold the power to. Love.
“We are bodies of broken bones.’ I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion.” – Thomas Merton
Fred Rogers changed the world, leaving a lasting legacy by refusing to sell his love to others. Instead, Mr. Rogers gave his love away for free.