In honor of Inspirational Role Models Month, this post honors Fred Rogers, of TV’s Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Although he died more than 10 years ago, his random acts of kindness still reverberate.
I am involved with a learning subgroup of the Association of Applied and Therapeutic Humor (www.AATH.org) called the Humor Academy, and one of my fellow learners was a lifelong close friend of Mr. Rogers. Here’s how it happened:
As a five-year old child, Beth Usher was having up to 100 seizures a day. Remarkably, her mother found that if she surrounded Beth with pillows and turned on Mr. Rogers while she completed other tasks, his soothing voice and her utter absorption seemed to alleviate her seizures for the length of the program. Beth was especially fond of the Land of Make Believe and the puppets King Friday, Lady Elaine Fairchild and Daniel Striped Tiger.
When it was time for Beth to have radical surgery to try to stop the seizures, her mother called Mr. Rogers’ office expressing the hope that he might send an autographed picture or perhaps even a note. Instead he called, and talked with Beth for nearly an hour. It was, as the line in Casablanca goes, the start of a beautiful friendship.
The rare and radical surgery was a hemispherectomy, the removal of one half of Beth’s brain. Today Beth will tell you that she is one of only a handful of people on Earth who can truthfully say that she is “always in her right mind.”
But while the surgery seemed to go well, she slipped into a deep coma. Mr. Rogers called Beth’s mother every day to check on Beth’s progress, and one day he showed up at her bedside carrying a case with three special puppets which he manipulated for her unseeing benefit. She would like to tell you that she woke up immediately, but there were no such miracles. Her only memory of the time she spent in the coma was background music – cassette tapes of Mr. Rogers singing, “I Like You Just the Way You Are.”
Eventually Beth did wake up and thrive – She is a remarkable young woman who has always used humor to put people at ease, and you can read her detailed, deeply moving account of this episode in her life at https://www.facebook.com/notes/elizabeth-catherine-usher/mister-rogers-and-me/10151253938286488
What is most touching to me is Mr. Rogers’ amazing acts of kindness that were done with no one except those who were present ever knowing. Mr. Rogers and Beth remained friends for the next 20 years until his death. And those special puppets, King Friday, Lady Elaine Fairchild and Daniel Striped Tiger? They still have a place of honor in Beth’s room.
World Kindness Day is November 13th each year, celebrating the opening day of the first World Kindness Movement® conference in Tokyo in 1998. Its purpose, according to the website http://kindness.com.au/world-kindness-day.html, is “to look beyond ourselves . . . and realise we are citizens of the world. . . [If] we are to achieve the goal of peaceful coexistence, we must focus on what we have in common.”
Kindness can be practiced anytime, anywhere and the above website has lots of ideas for how. Think about those who have been kind to you and to whom you could be kind . . .