The End Is The Beginning Is The End

July 4th, 2006

Considering that Chris and I have barely begun shooting, Mr. Rogers & Me,” it might sound ridiculous to tell you that I think I know how the film should end.

(Of course, if you don’t want to know how it’s going to end, you probably shouldn’t read any more of this post.)

I haven’t tracked down the actual tape yet, and I only vaguely recall having seen it myself, so I would say that the story of Mr. Rogers at the Emmy Awards was an apocryphal one — if both Bo and Amy hadn’t corroborated my memory.

Here’s the scene. Mr. Rogers is accepting his lifetime achievement award. He’s standing at the podium in front of television luminaries (I remember seeing Diane Sawyer and Mike Nichols). He asks everyone to stand and says, “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are. Ten seconds of silence.” Then he lifted his wrist, looked at his watch, and said softly, “I’ll watch the time.”

Above all, I think, Mr. Rogers was an advocated for quiet reflection. Because in reflection, in turning inward, we find ourselves, and The Divine. It is the essence of deep and simple.

Mr. Rogers had a saying on a plaque in his office that read, “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” What is essential is inside. The way to get at what is essential is to be still, be in the moment, and listen.

In May of 1997, during a Charlie Rose broadcast from Pittsburgh, Mr. Rogers asked Charlie, “What do you think we can do, those of us who are purveyors of this television medium, what can we do to encourage people to have more quiet in their lives, more silence? Because real revelation comes through silence.” (Charlie answered with another question.)

So… imagine that ninety minutes of film have passed. We’ve established my relationship to Mr. Rogers, his challenge to me to “spread the message” of deep and simple. We’ve spoken with Bo and Amy, Mrs. Rogers, Michael Keaton, LeVar Burton, Katie Couric, Bill Moyers and who knows who else. We’ve visited his birthplace in Latrobe, his children’s center at St. Vincent’s, the set at WQED, and his red sweater in the Smithsonian. We’ve seen clips from his show, and his speeches, in interviews, on camera and off. We’ve addressed spirituality, culture, consumerism, advertising, violence, and television. And you, there in the audience, have a few things to think about. What does deep and simple mean to me? What really matters? How can I make a difference?

In voice over, then, as the camera settles on a shot of the sunset on Madaket Bay (where Mr. Rogers swam daily, and where my mother first met him), I’ll say, “Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds of silence.” And I’ll pause long enough to hear the wind and the waves then softly say, “I’ll watch the time.”

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  • Benjamin Wagner first met “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” creator and star, Fred Rogers, at Rogers’ summer home on Nantucket, Massachusetts. His mother rented the cottage next door, so Mister Rogers really was his neighbor. On the afternoon of their first meeting, “America’s Favorite Neighbor” asked the young journalist about his job as an MTV News producer.  Wagner felt exposed and a tiny-bit embarrassed, a PBS mind in a jump-cut, sound-bit MTV world. Mister Rogers said warml ...
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