In a column last week, I touched on the legacy of Fred Rogers, whose life and work are the subject of a new documentary, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?," that’s been playing in theaters this summer.
About Rogers, you already know. From 1968 to 2001, he hosted “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” a children’s show on public television that taught youngsters to value themselves and be kind to others. Rogers spoke with a serenity that seemed intuitive, his soft-spoken manner mocked by parodists as a perfect specimen of the American wimp.
But as I suggested in last week’s column, there was really nothing wimpy about Fred Rogers. His underlying assumption — that kindness can transform the world — was grounded in a recognition that kindness as a way of life is hard. It asks you to give something of yourself routinely, day after day — not just on Christmas or other special occasions when generosity is expected. To teach his philosophy by living example, Rogers had to cultivate the discipline of a saint. Wimps need not apply.
Like any deeply spiritual person, Rogers thought that we had the power to shape the kind of world we want to live in by the quality of our decisions.
That reality resonated with me earlier this month on a flight home from Boston. The airliner left the gate on time, but it stalled on the runway for an hour, stacked up with other aircraft waiting to take off. Like many other passengers, I worried that the delay would cause me to miss my connection in Charlotte.
Finally, we lifted off the tarmac, and the pilot announced some encouraging news. A little extra time had been built into the flight plan, so our chances of making our connections in Charlotte were decent. It would be close, though.
All of this was unfolding late on a Sunday night, and I knew that if I missed my flight in Charlotte, there probably wouldn’t be a later flight for me. I’d be stuck there overnight.
As the flight attendant poured me a soft drink, she offered one more thing. “When we land in Charlotte,” she said, “I’m going to ask all the passengers not making a connection if they can stay seated so the customers trying to catch another plane can get off first. Sometimes the passengers cooperate, and sometimes they don’t. It’s really up to them.”
I could sense the exhaustion among my seatmates as we taxied into Charlotte. After a long weekend, everyone was anxious to get home. But when the airline attendant made her request, most of the passengers stayed put, patiently, so that those of us in a special hurry could sprint to our connecting gates. They smiled while we rushed off, as if wishing us luck.
Thanks to the collective kindness of strangers, I made it home on time. All in all, it had been a wonderful day in the neighborhood.
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