The Pipeline

by Tulasi-Priya on Monday 11 June 2012

I was never real crazy about Mr. Rogers. From earliest memory, I was surrounded by adults who, although loving, were also somewhat crude and harsh, who yelled a lot (and to be fair about it, the kids of my social circle wouldn’t have minded anyone otherwise), and who didn’t hesitate to slap you if you stepped too far out of line. Mr. Rogers’ soft-spoken gentleness, by contrast, seemed like it was meant for babies, or those who were the R-word. (or, as Mr. Rogers might say, “special”). I was too grown up, too smart, and too tough to accept his earnest invitations into his magical little bubble of a world. Besides, I was weaned on the Three Stooges, and Rogers’ King Friday and Henrietta Kitty were a bit tame for my taste.

The truth—let’s face it: I was probably scared of being vulnerable enough to let him in.  It was imperative that I adapt to my surroundings, rather than allow myself to imagine another way for a half-hour each weekday. Besides, in my house, the one who loved you was the one who fed you, who put clothes on your back and a roof over your head, and who paid the tuition that provided the food, shelter, and clothing for the nuns who yelled at you in loco parentis. To be nice to someone was not at all the same as to love them. In fact, the inverse was probably true. And Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood was, after all, only make-believe. The gulf between us was too wide to commute back and forth on a daily basis.

But recently I’ve happened across a couple of items on the internet that have made me rethink Mr. Rogers and what he was about. I’m now convinced that the man was a saint, and wish I’d spent more time in his ‘hood. Since I was watching Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, and Blues Clues right up into my late 20s and early 30s, it wouldn’t be at all out of character for me to hop on board Trolley and go for a spin to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe one of these days. For the media-reared, that’s a big part of what YouTube is about: a second chance to re-live vicariously.

The video remix of Fred Rogers that’s going around is delightful, and inspired me to find out more about him. What I happily discovered was this article by Tom Junod (who also wrote “The Falling Man,” for Esquire, a work that will stay with me as long as I live). “Can You Say . . . ‘Hero?'” brought me to tears more than once. It’s a lovely piece, revealing Fred Rogers as someone not quite of this world, but who could move through it, work in it, and even fight against what he saw as wrong with it, completely on his own terms. It made me reconsider the emotional callouses that I spent years building up in a harsh milieu. Seeing how Fred Rogers stayed soft and tender, yet so focused and influential, makes me think that, maybe, nice guys don’t always finish last.

An excerpt:

He was with his producer, Margy Whitmer. He had makeup on his face and a dollop of black dye combed into his silver hair. He was wearing beige pants, a blue dress shirt, a tie, dark socks, a pair of dark-blue boating sneakers, and a purple, zippered cardigan. He looked very little in the backseat of the car. Then the car stopped on Thirty-fourth Street, in front of the escalators leading down to the station, and when the doors opened–“Holy shit! It’s Mister Fucking Rogers!”

—he turned into Mister Fucking Rogers. This was not a bad thing, however, because he was in New York, and in New York it’s not an insult to be called Mister Fucking Anything. In fact, it’s an honorific. An honorific is what people call you when they respect you, and the moment Mister Rogers got out of the car, people wouldn’t stay away from him, they respected him so much. Oh, Margy Whitmer tried to keep people away from him, tried to tell people that if they gave her their names and addresses, Mister Rogers would send them an autographed picture, but every time she turned around, there was Mister Rogers putting his arms around someone, or wiping the tears off someone’s cheek, or passing around the picture of someone’s child, or getting on his knees to talk to a child. Margy couldn’t stop them, and she couldn’t stop him. “Oh, Mister Rogers, thank you for my childhood.” “Oh, Mister Rogers, you’re the father I never had.” “Oh, Mister Rogers, would you please just hug me?” After a while, Margy just rolled her eyes and gave up, because it’s always like this with Mister Rogers, because the thing that people don’t understand about him is that he’s greedy for this–greedy for the grace that people offer him. What is grace? He doesn’t even know. He can’t define it. This is a man who loves the simplifying force of definitions, and yet all he knows of grace is how he gets it; all he knows is that he gets it from God, through man. And so in Penn Station, where he was surrounded by men and women and children, he had this power, like a comic-book superhero who absorbs the energy of others until he bursts out of his shirt.

The article was chock-full of scenes like this. This was a wonder to me; the ability to see others (especially New Yorkers) as the conduit for God’s grace. Mr. Rogers would probably never admit to being such pipeline himself, but for me, Junod’s article is evidence that it was so. To open myself to that, to receive it, and to let people know, to make sure they realize, that that’s what they are, each in his own way. Could I do that? I think I’ll have to, eventually.

Who (or what) is the medium of grace for you?


Leave a Comment

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Averil June 11, 2012 at 8:34 pm

This was lovely, T. Mr. Rogers was one of my dearest childhood friends–or so I imagined. I loved his soft voice, his smile, and the soothing repetition of his show routine, as though he knew how much children crave order and simplicity and predictable kindness. It was a rare thing even back in the day; now we have Pee Wee Herman.

Carl Sagan was another childhood icon for me. Another man with a gentle soul and a big heart, but what a BRAIN. He inspired a life-long obsession with space and physics, and taught me a different way of thinking about the universe. If that’s not grace, what is?


Virginia Llorca June 16, 2012 at 10:00 pm

It’s something I don’t need to understand but
I am very aware of it and it responds to me.


Tulasi-Priya June 16, 2012 at 10:04 pm

A child doesn’t necessarily understand its mother, but the relationship is full in itself. Thanks for stopping in.


Auggie June 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Very little crudeness in my childhood, and certainly no slapping. I never liked Mr. Rogers because I didn’t need him. I liked He-Man and Thundarr and special ed teachers.

I either don’t understand or don’t believe in grace. But I’ve been meaning to ask you to write about the Bhagavad Gita, which you said at Betsy’s is your favorite book? Your favorite novel? Does it count as a novel?


Tulasi-Priya June 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Auggie!! My day has been made. Thanks for gracing this blog post with a comment, although I realize now that I need to examine how I (infrequently) use that word. I guess for an atheist or agnostic, unearned or unmerited good fortune would be considered luck. There’s a lot more to it than mere good fortune, though, and calling it grace personalizes it.

The Gita is a conversation that takes place within a larger work, the epic poem Mahabharata. I suppose some people would consider the Mahabharata a novel, but I don’t. So, by request, Bhagavad-Gita will be the subject of my next blog post.

Glad to hear you weren’t slapped. It’s so weird; I hardly know you as an adult, but I now find myself wondering what you were like as a kid.


Auggie June 17, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Without the chicken.

I tried reading the Mahabarata once, but no luck. Isn’t grace merited?


Tulasi-Priya June 17, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Poor chicken. If the chicken shits on you, does that mean you get your sins back? I’m (pleasantly) surprised to learn that you grew up Orthodox, and very interested to know how you got from there to here.

Grace, by definition, is a free gift. You could be the lowest of the low and still have God hit you with some kind of revelation or transformation of the heart. I think the only prerequisite is to be open to the possibility. Flannery O’Connor’s work traffics mucho in grace, usually in a setting of extreme violence, depravity, and despair. Have you read her much? Amongst Hare Krishnas grace is referred to as “causeless mercy,” but that expression is not familiar to most people.

There’s a novelized version of the Mahabharata out, but the writing isn’t so great. Still, it kept my husband and I benignly distracted and edified while he was going through chemo a few years back. If nothing else, it was sincere.


Auggie June 18, 2012 at 12:59 pm

If there’s a prerequisite, it’s not unearned. I want grace -without- being open to the possibility.

Never read O’Connor, that I can remember. Should I?

I wasn’t raised Orthodox, but pretty close. The thing about Jews, at least the several thousand I’ve met, is that only the fundamentalists truly believe in God. I’ve met Orthodox rabbis who didn’t. My mother is observant to a deranged degree, but doesn’t. (Lately she’s started to claim she does, but she gave the game away by saying she figures the first step toward believing is saying you do, even if you don’t.) So the trip from there to here was rather short. Turning my back on the observances is much harder than turning my back on the (lack of) beliefs. But I manage, in the interest of raising a son who is less fucked-up than I am.

Looking forward to your posts on the Gita or Mahabarata. I remember it as being about knowing your place and not getting uppity, but I imagine that’s not the deepest possible level of interpretation.

Tulasi-Priya June 18, 2012 at 3:46 pm

O’Connor who wrote only two novels, and a mess of short stories. The short fiction is available in a collection, The Complete Stories that you would probably not have to wait for at your public library. Her letters, essays, and other nonfiction are also worth reading. I am completely smitten by her, if you can’t tell, and would love to hear your take on her work, should you ever get around to it.

As for grace, belief, and fundamentalism, that’s too long to go into here. Another time, maybe another blog post. But it seems to me that if you want grace, you’re open to it.

Sarah W June 20, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Forr some reason your posts showed up in my reader all at once today, so I missed this one when you posted it.

Thank you for the excerpt—it’s so . . . Grace Full.


Tulasi-Priya June 20, 2012 at 7:02 pm

As are you. I find librarians in general to be graceful. Is it an occupational side effect, or does a gracious nature lead one to that vocation?


Sarah W June 21, 2012 at 12:06 pm

I’m thinking a sort of ‘grace-under pressure’ occupational hazard—and to be perfectly honest, I’m holding onto any grace I currently have by the points of my teeth . . .


Tulasi-Priya June 21, 2012 at 12:37 pm

»by the points of my teeth«

Ooh, a vampire librarian!


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