Here is an idea for a simple gift you can give yourself this holiday season: Go see the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”
The film is inspired by the relationship between Fred Rogers, the long-time host of a popular children’s TV show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Lloyd Vogel, a fictional character based on reporter Tom Junod, who wrote a profile of Rogers for Esquire Magazine in 1998.
Vogel is a troubled character. He is estranged from his hard-drinking and philandering father and aloof from his wife and new baby. Vogel carries with him a deep anger and sadness that he is unwilling or unable to do anything about.
The magazine assigns him to write a short profile of Rogers for their edition on heroes. Vogel resents the job as a puff piece that is beneath him. He heads to WQED TV studios in Pittsburgh cynical and only mildly interested in Rogers’ story.
But something changes when Vogel begins to spend time with Rogers, who is played by Tom Hanks, and in Mr. Rogers make-believe neighborhood. Vogel tells his editor that Rogers might just be the nicest person he has ever met.
Rogers is a gentle soul, unfailingly polite and devoted to making the world a better place one person at a time. He builds relationships with children by patiently listening to them and helping them deal with difficult issues through his TV show and in one-on-one meetings.
Vogel’s interviews with Rogers take an unexpected turn when Rogers begins to peel back the layers of Vogel’s torment. It’s a slow process for Vogel, who in one memorable scene storms out of an interview when Rogers tries to talk to him using his iconic puppets!
Okay, that does sound a little creepy, but what Mr. Rogers knew that many of us forget is that we were all once children, and even as adults we may still bear hurt, shame and anger from our childhood.
Rogers’ answer to these complex issues is simple—love and forgiveness. He also relies heavily on prayer, but without proselytizing. Rogers prays daily for people he has met, but also asks them to pray for him.
More than anything, however, Mr. Rogers is kind. We are told he has a temper and can be stubborn, but his patience and unrelenting empathy inspire Vogel, and others he meets, to want to be better, to do good, to be… nice.
The film is more about Vogel’s personal transformation than a biopic about Fred Rogers. However, Rogers is the hero of the story. Even though he passed away in 2003, Mr. Rogers is the perfect man for our time.
We are awash in anger, cynicism and sadness. Yes, there is plenty to be upset about, but there is also the capacity for gentleness, patience and forgiveness. Fred Rogers not only figured out how to live his life that way, but also how to impact the lives of countless others.
So, if you need a lift this holiday, go see the film. You may just leave feeling refreshed and renewed about the virtues of being a good neighbor.