Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Kindness of A Stranger

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.

Love,
Vanci



14 comments:

  1. What a beautiful tribute to a great man, Mr. Rogers. Yes, I would love to have you as my neighbor.

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    1. Ruth,
      Thank you. I'd love to be your neighbor, too. But I guess we kind of already are, at least here in cyber space, eh?
      What a lovely neighborhood we have!
      Love,
      Vanci

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    2. I believe our cyber space neighborhood is a lot like Mister Roger's neighborhood. We use the internet instead of the trolley to get there and we have plenty of interesting neighbors. :)

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  2. I wish you were my neighbor so we could have coffee together and chat on a regular basis. But thank heavens for the internet (& television) for helping people make connections. I'm glad Mr Rogers was there to be a good example of how to live life. Pretty meaningful stuff when one is surrounded by family that hasn't a clue how to live their life. (or refuses to get a clue)
    Thanks for the words Vanci.

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    Replies
    1. Anon,
      Yes, thank goodness for the resources available now!

      Love,
      Vanci

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  3. Fred Rogers was a truly amazing man. I remember a brief PBS advertisement that used the large, blocked words, white on black. They went through a host of things like "Divorce" "Bullying" "Abuse" "War." "Are you ready to tackle the tough issues?" "Are you ready for Mr. Rogers Neighborhood?" I thought about it and realized that Mr. Rogers really did talk about all the tough stuff. I loved seeing him on "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," and seeing the interview with him about the guest appearance. Thoughts of him still fill me with warmth and make me smile. Thanks for sharing your precious memories of a wonderful man.

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    1. Judy,
      Yes, he was a gift, and he still makes me smile too!
      Thanks for reading.

      Love,
      Vanci

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  4. Ms. Vanci, Do you-and the other ACoN Bloggers-not realize YOU are "Mr. Rogers?" That sharing your experiences and hard-won knowledge touches lives all over this planet? Far more than you'll ever know?
    When you touch another's life regardless of whether its in person or through another medium, you've effected change beyond what you could ever have envisioned. You are making a difference, a profound difference in the lives of others every single day.
    What a beautiful Legacy. Thank you, "Ms. Rogers" from the bottom of my heart and tons of other fractured, broken, confused hearts and lives.
    TW

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    Replies
    1. TW,
      Wow, what a tribute!
      I always hope that by speaking out - about the horrors and the triumphs - I can help to ease the burdens (or at lessen the research required to find peace,) of the other little girls and boys who grew up like me. I'm honored if I can touch another's life, and I know that I have been touched and helped in the same way by so many of the other ACoN bloggers.

      We are, by and large, an amazing group of souls.

      Love,
      Vanci

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  5. Growing up there was no TV but I guess I lucked out because until I was about thirteen I got to spend lots of time at my aunt and uncle's house where I was openly loved and treated like a princess. Oddly, that wonderful couple were my NF's twin brother married to my NM's younger sister!

    Vanci, So nice to hear that you also had a "touchstone" in your life that made you feel special. Maybe it gave you a glimmer of hope and the strength to hold on until you broke free.

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    1. mulderfan,
      Isn't it amazing how those "touchstones" of peace or harmony or special-ness can make such a difference in our messed up worlds?

      Definitely Mr. Rogers' kindness was a fragile nugget of truth that I tucked away for safekeeping.

      Love,
      Vanci

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  6. Vanci, TW is right. Your blog (and the others) were an incredible source of support to me as I fought to emerge from the fog. Your blogs gave me the strength to go NC and continue to reinforce the lessons I need to internalize.

    P.S. I also loved Mr. Rogers when I was young but the lesson I valued most at the time was developing an imagination, to conceive of living a better life. It's too bad there's a war on PBS in this nation--I think it does immeaurable good.

    --LuLoo

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    1. LuLoo,
      You know, you're an incredible source of support for me as well. Hearing your voice emerge over time has been so exciting for me. I remember you from before you posted with a name, dear, and you have come so far.

      "Immeasuable good" indeed. I think about the millions of children who were exposed to Mr. Rogers' brand of gentle kindness, and I can't even begin to ponder the number of those millions who needed that proxy-love in the same way that I did. Too many, I'm sure.

      Love,
      Vanci

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  7. I was an odd little girl: my two favorite TV shows were "Mr. Rogers" and "Speed Racer." Go figure.

    Fred Rogers was an amazing man. If you haven't already, you should get his book "The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember." It is one of the most beautiful books you will ever read

    pq

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