Yesterday would have been the 85th birthday of one of my heroes, Mr. Fred Rogers.
I loved his television show, Mister Rogers Neighborhood, from a very early age, so much so that the thought of it now brings tears to my eyes. Remembering that a television character - though an iconic one, still a stranger to me - was one of the kindest influences in my world... that's just heartbreaking.
Mister Rogers told millions of children, including me, this: "I like you just the way you are."
He said it over and over again. He told me that it was okay to be me. He showed me that there were hurtful things and people that happened in the sometimes scary world, but that I was okay and that I would be okay and that I was important. He convinced me with his sweater and his sneakers and his consistency in feeding the fish that there were gentle, kind, caring people in the world... somewhere, even if there weren't any in my house.
I think back now and I realize that this man's influence on my early life was profound. The dysfunction that the Nparents created was so total that my life until school was a vortex of isolation. Even after I began to attend school, frequent moves and constant uprooting didn't allow me to establish any true connections outside of the Clan. But Mister Rogers, man, he could get in. PBS was a constant in every place we lived, thank goodness, and I remember the joy of finding out when I would be able to see Mister Rogers again after every move, at least until around the first grade.
That's about the time when the Nsiblings - possibly with the help of the Nparents, certainly without the Nparents stopping them - began to heap ridicule on me for loving Mister Rogers' show so much. GCYB was pretty young still, but even a four year old will join in on calling his older sister a baby if everyone else thinks it's funny.
Wow, you know, you really have to work to hurt a child like they hurt me. I didn't want anything from them, I didn't even ask for any of their time. I just wanted to be left alone long enough to hear a stranger in a cardigan tell me that I was valuable, that I was wanted, that he loved having me for a neighbor. I sat there by myself, cross legged on the shag carpet, holding my rag doll and talking to her like I would to a real friend, listening to a stranger telling me that I was likable, filling me up just a smidgen with the idea that I was loved. I just wanted to get on that trolley that would take me to the magical land of make believe and go live in the damn tree with King Friday and Queen Sara.
So I sit here and type this with tears streaming down my face as I think of that lost, lonely, hurting little girl that I was, and I mourn for all the abuses, all the pain, all that years of struggle that I know she's going to have to face in order to get out, get away, get better, to make her stand and to walk away from the monsters. I wish that Mister Rogers could reach through the screen and give her a hug, or that I could instead. I've read about Mr. Rogers' life, and I know that this feeling of love and safety is what he was intending to pass on to children. And he did pass that on to me.
As sad as it is that my frame of reference means that one of the kindest people I knew in my formative years was a television character, I'm also so happy to have had even those bread crumbs of kindness, gentle acceptance, love.
I held onto them over the years, you see. I used them to find my way home. I pass them on every day, to my daughters, to other people in my life - adults and children alike. Mister Rogers said,
"The greatest gift you give is the gift of your honest self."
And that is one of the greatest lessons of my life, despite the monstrous efforts of the vile abusers of my NFOO. I am my honest self, which just so happens to be a pretty decent self after all.
I bet you would like to have a neighbor just like me.
Mister Rogers gets more credit for my goodness, my kindness, my generosity, my compassion, my empathy and my love of my neighbors than anyone else from my childhood. He's certainly more deserving.