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Be More Like Fred

It’s just midnight on January 5th and the snow is falling gracefully, yet sometimes sideways, on the empty streets. The holidays will officially come to a crashing end in a few short hours as the school buses hit the slushy streets and folks all over town have to grab their Timmy Ho’s from an angry drive thru and head back to their work-a-day lives. To what passes for some semblance of normalcy.

Some of us will take with us our resolutions for the New Year. Made in the heat of revelry, but based in the changes we wish to make in our lives, ourselves. To leave behind that extra weight. To depart from bad decisions and journey into good choices. These are all noble endeavors. But, in my humble opinion, in this very, very strange time, we need to be more than thinner, to try harder than just making a good choice. Personally, I need to strive for something…more than simple resolutions for myself. While I can’t change the world I can strive for something for my little part of it, my neighborhood.

Today I went to see “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood”. Truly a lovely movie and Tom Hanks does a great job portraying Fred Rogers. Now, I have to confess, for many years I thought Fred Rogers was hokey and an object of mockery. Nobody was that nice, that honest, that open. And his openness made me uncomfortable. What was his game? What was under all that? But, over the past few years, I have turned more and more to the sincere, honest messages Mr. Rogers had not only for children, but for everyone. And, as I was sitting in that dark theater, the thing I realized, and confirmed later via the documentary about Mr. Rogers and reading further about the man, was that he had no nefarious agenda. He simply wanted the best for all of us and that his road to this was his fearless vulnerability. He allowed others – children and adults alike – to be vulnerable simply because he opened his heart and soul first. He took his time and invited everyone in. He listened to listen, not to respond. He listened to help.

“All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbors – in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver.” – Fred Rogers

But, most profoundly, he was not afraid of silence. In fact, he embraced it. And, from the size of the crowd in the theater, more and more people are seeking that solace of silence – or at least a pathway to it. We are bombarded by noise, constantly. It distracts us and allows us not to feel those things that are uncomfortable. It also separates us. It keeps us yelling when we should be talking. Or, even more importantly, listening. Listening to even just the quiet.

“How many times have you noticed that it’s the little quiet moments in the midst of life that seem to give the rest extra-special meaning?” – Fred Rogers

Now, I’m exceptionally guilty of buying into the racket. It is easy to bandy about quick, sound byte labels and join the din of jaded cynicism. I don’t have to think. More importantly, I don’t have to feel. Or, more precisely, attempt to understand what I am feeling. I can have someone else interpret it for me and then off I go to buy some shiny gadget or the latest phone to make me feel better. But it’s not healthy. Not for me. Not for the world I share. Stuff don’t fix ya. I know. I’ve tried.

“Our society is much more interested in information than wonder, in noise rather than silence… And I feel that we need a lot more wonder and a lot more silence in our lives” – Fred Rogers

Wonder. Kindness. Empathy. Openness. Vulnerability. The idea that we all have value. How often do we use these words anymore let alone FEEL what they mean. So, that is my resolution for this new, complicated, uncertain year I’m stepping into – I’m going to try to be more like Fred. I am going to seek the wonder. I am going to be kinder. I am going to say I love you more and screw off less. I am going to be quiet and listen. I am going to try these things, more. In a spinning existence so out of my control the only thing I can exert any sense of will upon is me and my actions. That’s it.

“Some days, doing ‘the best we can’ may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect on any front – and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else.” – Fred Rogers

I know days – many, many days –  I will fall short. But I’m going to try, try to be like Fred. I hope whoever reads this might try to be like Fred too. To be a better neighbor in our little neighborhood, our City of Good Neighbors. What have we got to lose?

Lead image: The citation is “Dr. Francois S. Clemmons

Written by Jeff Wilber

Jeff Wilber

Jeff Wilber has written FOR the stage, screen, page and ON many a bathroom wall. He currently works as a drug and alcohol peer advocate and lives on the Westside with his incredibly patient wife and a bevy of incredibly impatient rescued furry beasts.

View All Articles by Jeff Wilber
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