My wife and I are sitting in a stone Cathedral that is probably 200 years old. This cathedral is one of the many churches in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. It’s Christmas time. We’re sitting on one of the wooden benches as I’m listening to my friends, Brady Allred, the Musical Director of the Duquesne University Choir, and his beautiful wife, Carolyn Allred, as they perform in the annual Christmas concert.
As the melodious music wafts over us, I’m looking around. I’m fascinated by the arched ceiling, beautiful stained-glass windows, and Christmas decorations of candles, pine garland, and red bows. The acoustics of the chapel make it sound like we are surrounded by angels.
As I’m looking around, I turn my head to the right to see what’s is behind me. About 30 feet away, I see him. Mr. Rogers. Yes, Mr. Rogers from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. He has the biggest smile on his face as he, too, listens to the music.
I elbow my wife and say, “Lisa, there’s Mr. Rogers over there.” She turns and looks. She confirms that it really is Mr. Rogers.
I remember that before moving to Pittsburgh, I told my dad that I hoped that I would run into Mr. Rogers someday. He told me that if I did, I shouldn’t bother the man. I didn’t really think that I would actually meet him, so I didn’t worry about it.
But now, suddenly, I have the opportunity to meet Mr. Rogers. But my father told me not to bother the man. He’s there enjoying the Christmas concert just like everybody else – likely not wanting to be interrupted when he is enjoying a night out with his wife.
Lisa and I begin debating whether we should introduce ourselves. We agree that he probably is bothered so much by other people as it is and may even be overwhelmed by the number of people who continually want to meet him. “Why don’t we just let him be?” we decide. But the man sitting next to us overhears our conversation. He leans over and whispers, “You know, you may never have this opportunity again. Are you really going to miss it?”
And he is right. Our time in Pittsburgh is coming to an end. I’ve just finished my master’s program in Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, and in just four weeks we will be moving to Yuma, Arizona, where I’m going to start as a therapist working with children and families. This will be the only chance to meet Mr. Rogers, unless, by some strange miracle, he decides to visit Yuma.
And so, during the intermission, my wife and I walk over to Mr. Rogers. My wife says to him, “Mr. Rogers, I want to thank you for helping make my childhood better. You were one of the bright lights of my childhood that gave me great joy, and I just want to tell you how grateful I am for you and the light that you shine.”
Mr. Rogers stood up. And surprisingly, he was a little bit shorter than me. You would never know that if you were watching him on camera. He shook my wife’s hand. And then he shook my hand. And he told us how grateful he was that we were willing to come over and say hello to him. And then he proceeded to engage in a conversation, which apparently he does a lot.
He asked me why we were there, and he asked what I was doing in Pittsburgh. I told him that I was getting a master’s degree in social work. And, as stated before, I was about ready to move to Yuma to work as a clinician.
Right on the spot, in a beautiful cathedral, Mr. Rogers blessed me in my efforts to lift other people. I wouldn’t fully appreciate just how much this blessing from Mr. Rogers would sustain me in the future, but even then, the warmth of his smile and his loving compassion filled my heart with joy and hope.
Mr. Rogers blessed me that I would see the worth in people and help them find their light and their love. And then he shared with us a thought that I will never forget.
He said, “People are simple and deep, but the world makes them shallow and complicated.”
I don’t remember everything else that he said. But I remember those words. They have stuck with me ever since. The world makes us shallow and complicated. But indeed, as humans, we are simple and deep.
As I have contemplated upon the world that we live in, there are many things that we make meaningful that truly are meaningless. As a result, we create drama in our lives that causes chaos and suffering.
But what really brings us joy? It is the simple things: A smile, a laugh, holding hands, looking at a beautiful sunset, listening to music, eating something so delicious we dream of it later.
It’s not money, fame, or wealth that brings us joy. It’s the simple things.
Sometimes we make recovery complicated, too. But when we are willing to sit in the simplicity of the work, we also recognize the depth of the work and our potential to grow, bless, inspire, and love deeply, without complication.
When we met Mr. Rogers, we also met his sweet wife. She was just as gracious and kind as he was. I read an article recently where she was very concerned about the way that her husband was going to be portrayed in the movie starring Tom Hanks. She was concerned that people would think that his love for others came naturally. She wanted to reassure everybody that it did not. Unconditional love takes work. And it was a simple, daily practice. It was not complicated, but the impact was deep.
Mr. Rogers is one of my heroes. I am grateful for his passion for proclaiming love and kindness, for teaching us healthy ways to deal with our emotions, to be able to learn that it’s OK to talk about what we’re feeling, and to share what we’re feeling with others rather than acting out in violence or hurting people in other ways.
I’m so grateful for Mr. Rogers. I will always be reminded of his blessing and I pass it on to you – May you be blessed on your journey. May you impact the world for good. May you see the light in others. May you experience peace along the way.
And may you remember his vital lesson – one that he must have known I needed to hear: People are simple and deep.