Who were you when you were five? What do you recall about that child, what made him/her feel safe, joyful, eager, hopeful… scared, anxious, sad?
What do you know about the five-year-old within your spouse, coworker, friend, mom? Your own child? Your neighbor?
We might not immediately recognize the significance of these questions, but it was not lost on one man whose legacy we as a nation have come to deeply revere – and long to better understand: Fred Rogers.
“You were a child once too.”
These six words were penned years ago by Fred, the opening line of a manual for doctors about how to speak with children.
I read them for the first time this morning in an article, My Friend Mister Rogers, written by Tom Junod – the very reporter who helped to inspire the highly anticipated upcoming movie “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”.
Junod went on to explain about Fred:
“[These six words – this message] was the basis of his strange superpowers. He wanted us to remember what it was like to be a child so that he could talk to us; he wanted to talk to us so that we could remember what it was like to be a child. And he could talk to anyone, believing that if you remembered what it was like to be a child, you would remember that you were a child of God.”
And that’s really it, isn’t it? Childhood is sacred, a sliver of time when we are most authentically who we are. The longer we can prolong and protect childhood, the more time a child has to learn who he is, what she loves, how essential relationship is… the incomparable beauty of being a part of something bigger than oneself, of having a purpose and a unique worth. Of seeing the worth in others, because everyone has a story and every story matters.
Childhood – the essence of purpose and being – needs to be nurtured, even well into our adulthood.
And that’s one thing, it could be argued, our society has nearly abandoned to its detriment: Somewhere along the line we as a culture have ceased to appreciate the beauty and sacredness of childhood.
As a whole, we no longer protect children (or ourselves) from language and actions that are harmful to strong development; we market to children, directly(!), through all forms of media; we have developed a definition of success based less on purpose than on performance and status; we therefore push children to achieve academically, recreationally, in an effort to secure a future of success; and we often times don’t make time for them in our own pursuit of success. And then – and I don’t mean to be sarcastic, here – we belabor why the world has become so unsafe, cold, uncaring.
You see? It’s really not all that complicated. Fred Rogers understood it better than anyone.
And glory be and halleluiah!, there is something significant we can do to reclaim the closeness, purpose, community we all crave for ourselves and our families. We can pick up where Fred Rogers left off, and we can actively choose to protect, celebrate, and champion childhood, in all the many ways that is possible…
…one of which is striving to see the child within everyone we meet.
Because you were a child once too. And if we can remember what and who we needed in our lives when we were five, we can make the conscious decision to choose to become that person ourselves. For the betterment of all.
And that would be a beautiful day in the neighborhood, indeed.
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