Due to my recent autism diagnosis, I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about acceptance and the lack thereof. It is very comforting to finally understand why it is that I’ve always felt like a square peg in a round hole, but that knowledge does not render me less square-ish or peg-ish to those around me. It just means that I’m finally able to comprehend why so many people get impatient or irritated with me or confused by me. I have a tendency to be rather polarizing, but that doesn’t mean I’m broken. I’m just different.
Birds of a feather like to flock together. My feathers are beautiful, but they screech, “I am not part of your flock!” and that causes most of the other birds to take flight, leaving me standing alone and befuddled in an empty marsh. Oh well. More crustaceans for me, then.
No wonder I was so emotionally drawn to Mr. Rogers and his wonderful neighborhood. He told me he liked me just the way I was. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. But that kind of unconditional acceptance is elusive. I’ll never understand why.
I suspect that most people simply want to be liked just the way they are, but very few people take the time or make the effort to say that very thing to others. It’s like we all know what the most precious gift in the world is, and yet we withhold it. Fred Rogers’ calling was to remind all of us that this kind of acceptance is possible. Even 20 years after his passing, his legacy lives on.
Recently, a friend shared a story that she had seen on Facebook that showed what a lasting impact Mr. Rogers and his acceptance has had on the world. With her permission (Thanks, Jenny!), I’ll share it here.
“A good portion of my pro-bono work is defending abused children. It’s a cause close to my heart. In the course of my work I met a man who was an adult survivor. You wouldn’t have known it looking at him. He was this gigantic Polynesian guy. Wild curly hair. I think of him every time I see Khal Drogo on GoT. He was counseling some of the little kids, and doing a fantastic job of it.
“I visited his home to get his opinion on something and I noticed a little toy on his desk. It was Trolley. Naturally curious, I asked him about it. This is what he told me:
“’The most dangerous time for me was in the afternoon when my mother got tired and irritable. Like clockwork. Now, she liked to beat me in discreet places so my father wouldn’t see the bruises. That particular day she went for the legs. Not uncommon for her. I was knocked down and couldn’t get back up. Also not uncommon. She gave me one last kick, the one I had come to learn meant ‘I’m done now’. Then she left me there upstairs, face in the carpet, alone. I tried to get up, but couldn’t. So I dragged myself, arm over arm, to the television, climbed up the tv cabinet and turned on the TV.
“’And there was Mr. Rogers. It was the end of the show and he was having a quiet, calm conversation with those hundreds of kids. In that moment, he seemed to look me in the eye when he said ‘And I like you just for being you’. In that moment, it was like he was reaching across time and space to say these words to me when I needed them most.
“’It was like the hand of God, if you’re into that kind of thing. It hit me in the soul. I was a miserable little kid. I was sure I was a horrible person. I was sure I deserved every last moment of abuse, every blow, every bad name. I was sure I earned it, sure I didn’t deserve better. I *knew* all of these things … until that moment. If this man, who I hadn’t even met, liked me just for being me, then I couldn’t be all bad. Then maybe someone could love me, even if it wasn’t my mom.
“’It gave me hope. If that nice man liked me, then I wasn’t a monster. I was worth fighting for. From that day on, his words were like a secret fortress in my heart. No matter how broken I was, no matter how much it hurt or what was done to me, I could remember his words, get back on my feet, and go on for another day.
“’That’s why I keep Trolley there. To remind me that, no matter how terrible things look, someone who had never met me liked me just for being me, and that makes even the worst day worth it to me. I know how stupid it sounds, but Mr. Rogers saved my life.’
“The next time I saw him, he was talking to one of my little clients. When they were done with their session, he helped her out of her chair, took both of her hands, looked her in the eyes and said: ‘And remember, I like you just for being you.’
“That, to me, is Mr. Rogers’ most powerful legacy. All of the little lives he changed and made better with simple and sincere words of love and kindness.”Author Unknown
That’s heartwarming, just as Fred Rogers was. He inspired me to write several blog posts about him. Fred Rogers Was My Father is all about the safe place he provided me in my chaotic childhood. In Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I described the political backlash about him that I’m glad he didn’t live to see, and also talked about an amazing documentary that had recently come out about him, which I highly recommend. What Would Fred Rogers Think? is about the movie about him that stars Tom Hanks, who, it turns out, is actually Fred Rogers’ 6th cousin in real life. (Why doesn’t that surprise me?) In that post I also wonder whether Mr. Rogers would be proud of the adult I’ve become. I hope so.
Even in the throes of great pain due to the stomach cancer that ultimately took his life, Fred Rogers took the time to leave us one last message, which you can see here. When he recorded it, he knew he was saying goodbye to all of us for the final time, and he made a point to say, as he so often did, “I’m proud of you,” and “I like you just the way you are.” The very last thing he said to us all in that very last message was, “It’s such a good feeling to know that we’re lifelong friends.”
That chokes me up every time.
I think the world would be a much better place if we all took the time to really see people and accept them for who they are, and make a point of telling them so. Fred Rogers embodied that philosophy, and it’s wonderful to see so many people out there who are trying to share that love and wisdom with today’s children. It is something we all need, and we each have it within us to provide that comfort to others, if only we’d take the time.
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