The Beginning Of Something Else
See, Mister Rogers summered in a modest, gray, shake-shingled house on the edge of Nantucket. My mother rented a tiny cottage next door. So Mister Rogers really was my neighbor.
Somehow, one brief but powerful conversation with the television icon on the afternoon of my 30th birthday way back in 2001 inspired me to write, produce and co-direct (with my brother who shot and edited) a feature-length movie.
Today, we celebrate what would have been Mister Rogers’ 84th birthday with the release of that film, “Mister Rogers & Me.”
First, it screened in festivals from Nantucket to to Hot Springs and Sun Valley. Then at events from New York to Chicago and Los Angeles. Today, it’s officially not ours anymore. It’s everyone’s.
That’s exciting: Mister Rogers asked me to “Spread the message.” That pure-hearted imperative has driven this project forward for over ten years through every imaginable impediment.
But it’s also scary; people can by cynical, sarcastic and mean spirited. Our film is hopeful, sincere and joyful. I steel myself against the naysayers with something Mister Rogers told Amy Hollingsworth that she shared with me shortly after we met: “I’ve often hesitated in beginning a project because I’ve thought, ‘It’ll never turn out to be even remotely like the good idea I have as I start.’ I could just ‘feel’ how good it could be. But I decided that, for the present, I would create the best way I know how and accept the ambiguities.”
I was a 30-year-old, serial monogamist, aspring rock star when I met Mister Rogers. I had no idea what he meant when he told me, “I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.”
Today, I am a 40-year-old media executive, husband and father. I now have dozens of deep and simple insights from some remarkable mentors and neighbors: Bo Lozoff, Tim Russert, Maureen Orth, Susan Stamberg, Linda Ellerbee, Marc Brown, Amy Hollingsworth, Tim Madigan, Davy Rothbart and the plethora of other off-camera conversations I’ve had on the subject.
Eleven years later, I am finally coming in for a landing. In a few minutes I will be home. It’s where I was headed all along, it’s what I wished for; I just didn’t know it.
Maggie will bound down the hall screaming, “Daddy!” She will throw her arms around my neck, giggle, and pat my back. And then she will grab my pointer finger, and lead me into her bedroom where we will build blocks, sing songs, and solve puzzles. I will relish every second.
Today, on Mister Rogers’ birthday, I am grateful for the gifts he gave me: above, the knowledge that “There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” Every relationship matters. Every second is a choice.