Last night I saw Won't You Be My Neighbor?—a documentary about the career of Fred Rogers.
Through archival footage of the legendary Mister Rogers' Neighborhood program to old interviews with Rogers himself and current discussions with his family, friends and colleagues, Director Morgan Neville pieces together a triumphant public life.
It's not a biography in the sense that we see Mr. Rogers' life story, because we don't—in fact very little time is spent on his life before becoming the iconic children's show host—but that's okay. What we do see is so moving and sweet, it's well worth the price of admission. Aside from his television persona, we learn he behaved the same way (letting kindness be his guide) in real life and had a great sense of humor as well.
The Pittsburgh-based minister who had an uncommon (but perfectly respectable) affection for children broke through more barriers that my young self, an avid watcher of the show in the late '70s and early '80s, remembers. I don't recall the episode where he invited the black cop to join him in the pool shortly after an incident in real life where whites poured cleaning agents into a community pool to chase the black people out. I don't remember his acceptance of gay people or his hard discussions with kids about divorce.
But all of those episodes happened, and our world was better for it.
What I do remember was the calming voice of a man who felt like the grandfather I never knew; a man who was far more gentle than the men I grew up around. A place where puppets had lives, music was plentiful and cardigans were always in style.
This documentary couldn't have come at a more perfect time—our world is in desperate need of folks who demonstrate kindness as a way of life.
It should be required viewing in all schools, workplaces and houses of worship. We need the refresher course.