1-4-3

I have seen many Google Doodles, but, until last Thursday, had no idea they had a name. A Google Doodle is the daily, ever-changing, interactive picture or design or video on Google’s webpage commemorating someone or something.

A recent Doodle depicted kids gathered around an old-time TV, their eyes were fixed on a man with a trolley in the background.

Fred Rogers.

Mr. Rogers.

One click and I was whisked into a claymation rendition of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Familiar chimes, a trolley bell, and piano notes made my heart quicken.

An animated Mr. Rogers sang “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” to children, and they all hopped aboard the red trolley that drove by King Friday, XIII, Queen Sara Saturday, Daniel Tiger, and X the Owl. 

I smiled. Something about the tenor of Rogers’ voice, something about that song, decompresses a person. I watched the clip again.

The Google Doodle celebrated the 51st anniversary of the first installment of what became an iconic children’s television show. 

Iconic because it accomplished what it set out to do: make children feel good about themselves. Iconic because the show’s success proved Fred Rogers’ hypothesis: television could be a useful tool to reach kids in a positive way.

Gary and I happened upon the documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, on a trip to Pittsburgh.  The temptation to see a movie documenting Rogers’ life and legacy, right there in his neighborhood, was too strong to resist.

Those tickets turned out to be one of the best decisions of our summer. Won’t You Be My Neighbor gives viewers a front-row seat to the heart and mind of an extraordinary man. Next month, Tom Hanks plays Mr. Rogers in You Are My Friend.

Rogers’ draw to become an advocate for children started earlier than he probably realized. He had been a sickly child who was often the target of bullies.

Later, he observed the way children’s television was headed. Fred Rogers was determined to counter meaningless cartoons and violent shows with meaningful children’s programming, and he did.

Rogers would have been the first to admit he was not a perfect human being. Still, I wish he had run for president or had been nominated to the Supreme Court.

It would have been fun watching the dirtiest of diggers prove unsuccessful in finding any dirt on Fred Rogers. Instead, they would have tried to skew his kindness for weakness.

I can hear them now: “He would not be strong enough (or brave enough or mean enough).”

Ha. Ha. Ha, ha, ha.

Fred Rogers was a calm man with a soothing voice, but make no mistake, he was a courageous, calm man with a soothing voice.

When Officer Clemmons joined Rogers’s cast, he was one of the first black actors to appear in a children’s TV show. In a 1969 episode, when segregation remained an issue, Mr. Rogers invited Clemmons to soak his bare feet with him in a kiddie pool.

Through his puppet characters, Rogers helped children deal with divorce, war, and assassination. When the release of Superman triggered the tragic death of a child who donned a red cape and jumped from a window, Rogers devoted an entire show to righting the misleading messages kids were getting from adventure films.

The man who championed children maintained his weight at 143 and often used the number 143 on his show. His dedication to1-4-3 was simple, yet significant: 1 for “I”; 4 for “L-O-V-E”; 3 for “Y-O-U.”

“Children are to be respected, and I respect them deeply. They’ve taught me an awful lot,” said Rogers. 

While teaching children to have confidence and to love who they are, he taught adults how to be responsible and loving parents—if they paid attention.

It’s not too late.

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