I just finished a great documentary on PBS called Mr. Rogers and Me. I highly recommend it to everyone, particularly fans of Mr. Rogers.
I grew up watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and fondly remember his fish tank, trolley, puppets, and field trips to so many interesting places. I have worn cardigans and sneakers for years as a token of my respect to the man. I always knew how kind and gentle he was, but the depth of his life was lost on me until recently.
This documentary confirmed that my evolving perception of the man as not just a kind, old tv personality, but also a wise and profound sage, was correct.
Mr. Rogers once said, “I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.” This quote has been on my mind since hearing it. I have been considering the depth of my relationships and the complexity of my day to day life. These reflections have brought back memories of the time I spent in Floyd, VA about a year ago.
During the few days I spent in Floyd, I became enchanted with this small, magical town with one stoplight in the Virginia hills. I became fascinated and inspired by the teachers and students of Blue Mountain School. When I have spoken to people about Floyd, I have detailed a number of interesting and inspirational experiences (WARNING: If you ask me, I will go on for about an hour), but it has been difficult articulating those experiences succinctly. I think, however, Mr. Rogers has helped me find the right words, "DEEP and SIMPLE."
My life, and the lives of most people I know are shallow and complex. We never seem to have enough time. Goal-oriented, focused on the future, driven by data and always in a rush, we rarely have the time for a deep conversation. We rarely feel what our humanity yearns for....freedom to explore, time to wonder, and the space to find inner peace and dream. Alarm clocks, drives, traffic, e-mails, texts, phone calls, Facebook, Twitter, appointments, agendas, chores, meetings, practices, tv, web surfing, and disconnection have us spread so thin that depth is rarely possible and complexity is the norm.
I am sure the people I met in Floyd have their share of complexity, but my experiences there led me to believe that they value depth and simplicity and are willing to act upon those values. Whether it is the way they have designed Blue Mountain School or the palpable sense of community, it is clear that depth and simplicity are more than mere notions of dreamers. They are integrated into the day to day lifestyle.
I think most of us crave this. We want REAL relationships. We want TIME to develop these relationships and explore our outer and inner worlds to find meaning and fulfillment. We also want TIME to fiddle with a guitar or a paintbrush. We want to feel that we are a part of a caring community. We want to decelerate, turn off the television, and sit around a fire telling stories and jokes with the people of our community. Someone brings a guitar, and we all sing together as we gaze up at the stars in sheer awe of how small we are compared to the universe. A hike through the forest, a day at the farmer's market, a quick snack at a locally owned coffee shop while three musicians play improvisational jazz music....not for money, but for the love of music.... we throw money in their cases because we appreciate their genuine expression....a festival....a park at the end of a trail worn by the feet of children who have the time to play something other than video games...an unplanned visit by a neighbor who just wanted stop by and see how we were doing....a child urging us to pay attention so she can show us how great her cartwheel is....reading an inspirational book on our porch while the last few rays of sun set in a prismatic sky....and the time to simply breathe and notice the changing seasons outside and within us. As we pass through this life, through the peaks and valleys, we never feel alone. We have found a way out of the chronic stress that our complex lives have placed upon us. This is what I dream about. This is the vision I have for my children and their children. This is, I believe, the neighborhood Mr. Rogers wanted us to have.
Instead of realizing this dream, we count down the days to our next vacation when we can get a glimpse of this kind of life, but we know it is temporary. Then we pass along this "life"style to our children, and they don't even know to question it. We move through our lives cashing in hours, days, weeks, months and years as if they were inexhaustible. Whether through resignation or denial, we rarely take the steps necessary to rid ourselves of the complexity to make time for the deep living Mr. Rogers claimed was "essential."
Our schools, filled with wonderful adults and children, appear to be entangled in this complexity. Pressured by accountability and our achievement culture, afraid to be left behind in the race to the top, human beings in boxes all over our country are scrambling to keep up. Stressed out, anxious, and sometimes depressed, these people feel powerless to change that culture. In a race to deliver standards and prepare students for tests, we have decided to sacrifice the depth and simplicity Mr. Rogers so wisely counseled us to seek. We have been left with a culture where many of us feel isolated, with plenty of PHYSICAL neighbors, but very few REAL neighbors.
Is this the kind of culture we want to sustain and build upon? Is this what will truly bring us happiness and fulfillment?
I'm calling upon everyone to reimagine our lives, to reconsider the words of a deep and simple man. Mr. Rogers had more to teach us than most of us have given him credit for.