By Genevieve A. Suzuki
If only Fred Rogers had known how much we need him now, I feel certain he would have somehow found a way to become immortal
The other day I came home from work to find my husband, Derek, and our 9-year-old daughter glXued to the TV. Thinking they were watching some cartoon, I barely looked up as I tried to shove my briefcase under some furniture to forget impending work.
“You should watch this, Gen,” Derek said, pulling my attention to the 2018 documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” about PBS’s favorite sweater-wearing gentleman down the street, Mr. Rogers.
And while I was among Mr. Rogers’ biggest fans — I watched it every day as a child — seeing him on TV again felt as though I was watching a favorite long-gone relative on home videos. I immediately felt that lump in my throat as tears sprung to my eyes. Hearing his ever-gentle voice telling us a human truth made me want to sob in the corner.
In all of my four decades, we have never needed Mr. Rogers more than we do now.
When I was growing up in the 1980s, I had the benefit of the wisdom of the Greatest Generation, which saw the rise and fall of brutal authoritarian regimes. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 1963 March on Washington and Gloria Steinem and women’s rights were vital pieces of our nation’s past, and we took it for granted they were precisely that: history.
I also watched “Sesame Street,” which showed me kids living in an urban neighborhood just like my apartment building, and family shows, such as “The Cosby Show,” “Family Ties” and “Growing Pains,” and, of course, “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.”
Fast-forward 30 years. I can’t even tell you how much my heart breaks for our children.
We went from a secure nation to a country of children who have school drills that include them jumping beneath their desks and behind bookcases in case there is ever an active shooter. We have a U.S. president who holds rallies, railing against anyone who isn’t with him and encouraging an “us against them” attitude. There are also articles about how measles is making a comeback thanks to anti-vaccination campaigns and the extinction of animals I never thought we’d lose.
I’m not alone when I tell you there are days when I wake up and force myself to take a huge breath before getting on with my day.
There’s something to be said about being able to look up to a famous person who isn’t known for scandal. Derek marveled during the documentary about how Mr. Rogers had a wonderfully clean record. My generation loved Mr. Rogers and will forever be indebted to him for protecting us as children and soothing us as adults. After Sept. 11, 2001, PBS knew we craved his voice and broadcast several public service announcements featuring Mr. Rogers urging us to continue to believe in humanity.
Meanwhile, nowadays we have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and a thousand TV channels, but not one soft presence calming and soothing our children.
I guess what I’m saying is there’s a void crying to be filled. I’m hoping we snap back to a national feeling of hope, acceptance and peace. And I still believe Mr. Rogers’ dream is still alive in each and every one of us. After all, we need to give our own children that gift he so lovingly bestowed upon us years ago: a carefree childhood.
— Genevieve A. Suzuki is a local attorney who lives and works in La Mesa.