I haven’t had many celebrity run-ins in my life. So far,
I’ve shaken hands with Keb’ Mo’, jammed out backstage at a Rusted Root show,
and played video games at the home of my all-time favorite podcast host. Other
than a lasting friendship with the second chair on “NPR’s Pop Culture Happy
Hour”, I don’t feel like any of those interactions changed the course of my
life significantly. But there was an interaction on the corner of Fifth Avenue and
Bigelow Boulevard near the University of Pittsburgh back in 1999 that
has always been a touchstone for me. It was an adult reminder of some lessons I
had learned and treasured as a child, made fun of in my bratty adolescent years, and then
come back to as an adult, needing them more than ever.
I was 24 and in the midst of my training to become a Teacher of the Visually Impaired. I was crossing a major thoroughfare near the Pitt campus under blindfold during my Orientation & Mobility class. It’s at least as scary as it sounds, and requires total concentration. Often, the non-blindfolded members of our cohort were so relieved when one of us got safely to their side of the street that I would know I’d arrived by the sounds of cheering or sighs of relief. This time, though, when I got to the other side of five lanes of city traffic, there was silence. I wondered if I had veered off course and was standing in the center of the street rather than stepping, safe and sound, onto the curb.
The instinct to stay alive forced my hand to my face to remove my blindfold.
As the darkness lifted and things came into focus, I confirmed that I was, indeed, safely on the sidewalk, and then I counted my people. There was one person more than we had started out with on the previous corner. The sixth person was tall and quite thin. He was talking to our instructor and smiling. I blinked because even though the picture had become clear, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was Mister Rogers. Mister. Rogers.
Felicity, our instructor, introduced me. He held out his hand and I shook it. Seriously. I shook Mister Rogers’ hand!
I wish I could say that I was able to strike up a conversation about something meaningful. If only I could pass along to you some gem of kindness or wisdom from this moment with one of the most genuinely good men who ever walked the earth. But no. I was utterly speechless. I had nothing to offer. He was gracious about the work that we were learning how to do and he thanked us. But beyond that, I can’t remember what was said or how long the moment lasted. He was gone almost as suddenly as he had appeared to me.
It seems that, since my diagnosis, I’ve been looking for meaning in every memory I have. But sometimes, memories stand on their own, without needing a big lesson or moral. That moment on that corner wasn’t in itself a revelation, but it brought me back to the admiration of someone whose words and lessons echo through life – whose words come back in times of crisis and uncertainty. Here are some of the things I learned from him as a child that have been a joy and a treasure to rediscover in these past weeks as the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood:
· He likes us just the way we are. (It’s not the way we do our hair.)
· Not every day will be a good one, but deciding to make it a “snappy new day” never hurts.
· It's great to be able to stop/ When you've planned a thing that's wrong,/ And be able to do something else instead
· Some are fancy on the outside./ Some are fancy on the inside./ Everybody's fancy./ Everybody's fine./ Your body's fancy and so is mine.
· There are many ways to say I love you.
· Look for the helpers.
As I look over this list, I think I have a brand new set of blogs to start writing. I’m just gonna wait here until Trolley comes to take me to work…