"You were a child once, too."
Those words were spoken by one of the greatest advocates for children, education, spiritually, kindness, decency, caring, and puppetry ever... Fred Rodgers.
He spoke them in order to help Ophthalmologists learn how to avoid scaring their young patients who feared they may become blind (they were writing a book and sought out Mr. Rogers' advice).
He spoke them to help adults understand how important it is to treat children with kindness and respect.
He spoke them because they are true and every parent, teacher, aunt, uncle, priest, grandmother, and grandfather should remind themselves of that truth every day.
He spoke them because he was, is, and always will be a champion for children.
I am not being sarcastic or overly dramatic in my description of Mr. Rogers as an American hero. For so many people, he was much more than just some calming, odd, old guy on TV. He was a model of how adults should treat children... and each other. He was a surrogate parent for some children. He connected generations together. He taught people how to be "neighborly". He was a hero. If you don't believe me, you need to read this Esquire interview from November of 1998 titled "Can you say... Hero?". Although I can't possibly do the piece justice here, please take my word that Fred Rogers went out of his way to make children's lives better every day. Only a tiny portion of this was seen on TV.
Thanks to TriStar Pictures, we will all get to see this for ourselves. The studio has just announced that they will begin filming a movie closely based on Tom Junod experience of researching and writing that Esquire article nearly twenty years ago. Multiple Oscar Award winner Tom Hanks is slated to play the television icon.
Can you say "perfect casting"? I knew you could.
This is how TriStar described the movie, which will be titled You Are My Friend.
"In the heart-warming story, a cynical journalist begrudgingly accepts an assignment to write a profile piece on the beloved icon and finds his perspective on life transformed."
Junod was truly a lucky man.
I was incredibly happy when I read this announcement. Not only am I incredibly eager to see Mr. Rogers' story told on the big screen, it gives me an excuse to share one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned from Mr. Rogers.
As a history teacher, I have had to discuss some terrible events with my students including wars, Genocides and terrorism. Even though I have been teaching for many years and have a great deal of experience with young people, none of that prepared me for the first time I had to discuss a major tragedy with my own very young children.
It was December 12, 2012. Every television station was reporting about a tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In addition, every neighbor was talking about it. I could not shield my 5 year old daughter or 7 year old son from the tragedy. I had to help them process it so they could feel safe in their school. I needed to give them something positive to cling to. But I was at a loss. How could there be anything positive to focus on when such a horrible event had just occurred? Who could possibly know what to say?
On that day, I remembered something I had read more than 11 years earlier. It was an excerpt from a newspaper column written by Fred Rogers. In 2001, I needed to read his words in order to help my students who were in the midst of experiencing the tragic events of 9/11.
"I was spared from any great disasters when I was little, but there was plenty of news of them in newspapers and on the radio, and there were graphic images of them in newsreels.
For me, as for all children, the world could have come to seem a scary place to live. But I felt secure with my parents, and they let me know that we were safely together whenever I showed concern about accounts of alarming events in the world.
There was something else my mother did that I’ve always remembered: “Always look for the helpers,” she’d tell me. “There’s always someone who is trying to help.” I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong."
And that is exactly what I told my children.
Did it make the tragedy disappear?
Did it bring anyone back?
Did it convince two children that there was still hope in this world?
Thank you Mr. Rogers.
It's about time that everyone will get to see what a hero you