This morning, I woke up with a song running through my head. During deconstruction, it grew to be one of my favorites. Listen to Fred Rogers as he sings it to Joan Rivers.
I watched Mr. Rogers as a child. My favorite part was the Neighborhood of Make Believe. But as I grew older, I began to feel the show was too “young” for me, and I stopped watching. I regret that now as I realize Mr. Rogers was the only person in my world at the time who liked me exactly the way I was.
I was surrounded by criticism. I was never good enough for my parents, and I often felt like a nuisance. Sunday we attended an “independent, fundamental, Bible-believing, Bible-preaching, KJV-only, Baptist church” morning and evening. Wednesday evening we were there again. Monday through Friday I went the same church for school. I was immersed in a culture that saw me as inherently sinful and doomed but for Jesus.
Even with Jesus, I wasn’t good enough. I was a child. I wasn’t smart enough, pretty enough, cool enough, poised enough, disciplined enough, or perfect enough. My childishness was treated as a sin, and for it I was spanked at home, at school, and at church.
But every afternoon, a man would come into my living room and ask me to be his neighbor. He talked to me like an equal. He asked me questions and seemed to be genuinely interested in my answers. And he told me he liked me exactly the way I was. He didn’t ask me to change or tell me that if I made a mistake I would be punished. He didn’t threaten me or gaslight me the way the other adults in my life did. He was my friend. When he put on his sweater, he made a warm, safe place for me.
Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for liking me, for loving me. You couldn’t see my face in your camera, but you saw me, the real me, more than anyone else in my life. You valued and validated me. I will be forever grateful.
Photo credit: Darin McClure, original image cropped, https://www.flickr.com/photos/darinrmcclure/22387866284.