"No matter what is on the outside, it's never as much as what's in." - Fred Rogers
I recently found myself watching a 1982 episode of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
It just happened to be on while I was flipping channels. C’mon, you know as well as I do that if you catch something on TV that you hadn’t seen in a while, you stop to tune in. I usually stop when I run across “Mary Tyler Moore,” “Maude,” “All In The Family” and even “CHiPs”…yes, “CHiPs” (I am a sucker for the cheesy dialogue and the tight, early 1980s uniforms). But this time it was “Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.” I didn’t see the whole thing. In fact, I only saw the last five minutes. And in those five minutes Mr. Rogers packed quite a comfortable punch. But I guess he always did, didn’t he?
This episode was about going to the opera and learning stories can come in a variety of ways. And in true “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” fashion, there was singing…only this time it was operatic. The characters, reciting the virtues of how someone looks isn’t the true measure of what is in their hearts, had cheesy Hansel and Gretel getups drenched in poor lighting, were shown in minimally-blocked studio scenery, and given a lowly handful of props. Even so, I was transfixed. With the moral of the song completed, the camera cutaway to Mr. Fred Rogers, who hammered home the message of not making judgments based on how someone looks. This is a message children have heard time and again. I know I did. But Mr. Rogers’ delivery is what stood out. His delivery is what made the message heard. Look, I’m not a kid anymore. But I can tell you when I saw Mr. Rogers talking to the camera; I swear I felt as though he was talking just to me. His gentleness, his humor, his tone and inflection; enveloped the message and elevated it. I paid deeper attention and came away with saying, “Yes. Yes, we should all look beyond the physical because love is found in the hearts of souls…just like Mr. Rogers told us.”
So this brings me to some recent events with my comfortable Sunday Boyfriends. But first a backstory…
I am ready for the New Year. Overall 2012 was a good one. A busy one. An enlightening one. Changes here and there. Yep, good. The holidays, however, provided events that proved we all have ways of letting the past shape us. Be it good or bad memories, the past can be a powerful manipulator. A loss of good times can make you weep for what you had or rejoice in your experiences. A recounting of bad times can make you grateful for surviving…or freeze you in your tracks and prevent you from letting anything go or in.
I get it. We all cope differently. We bring too much to the table over the course of a lifetime to not be anything but different. That said…I’m not a big believer in the adage, “God doesn’t give us what we can’t handle.” Whatever spiritual power you believe in (or not), this idea that God gives some people more hard times, more suffering, because there is this sense they can handle it more than someone else, I believe, is a bunch of malarkey. First off, I don’t believe God gives suffering. I know this comes in direct conflict with some major religions out there, so let me reiterate this is just my opinion. Suffering happens. And happens. And happens. And happens. But so does happiness and joy. Happy, happy, joy, joy...as Ren and Stimpy would attest. I do believe life is about doing your best to find a balance between the sadness and joy you encounter along your journey and allowing yourself a pass when you reach those moments of too much.
I think many people are given too much to handle. And let me take a moment to reveal a pet peeve: telling someone who is currently suffering that they should, “Pull up their bootstraps.” This isn’t helpful whatsoever. In fact, it’s a cop-out to discussing what is really going on. It’s you saying, “I don’t want to deal with your shit, so just get over it and move on so I don’t have to hear about it.” And there’s nothing warm, fuzzy, comfortable or Mr. Rogers-like about that reaction. Honesty in moments that call for your attention is better than anything. If you can listen…listen. If you can hold a hand…hold a hand. Honestly acknowledge what you can do, what you can give, what you want to do and give, and say so. And if you honestly can’t, then just say so. We are all human. There isn’t anything wrong with honestly saying what you are and incapable of doing. It allows both of you to seek out the things you need. It’s kind, really. And I’m inclined to believe Mr. Rogers would want you to be kind.
“Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?” – Fred Rogers
What I’m hinting at with this backstory is the holidays were a tad tough this year for me. I’m calling it my Melancholy Christmas. It was a bit more difficult to find nuggets of good times, but I’m choosing to look for them in order to savor the good stuff. Knowing I can go to my Sunday Boyfriends during my holiday mayhem is one such good-stuff nugget.
So what happened?
Well, two things really. One, my sweet little 12 year-old pound pup crossed over the Rainbow Bridge three days before Christmas. For those of you unfamiliar with the Norse poem, I suggest you give it a read. Oreo Cookie was more than a great dog, he was a fuzzy rock star soul. If you have ever had a pet that you welcomed into your family, then you know the loss. Recounting all the times he sat at my feet during times of sorrow, his around-the-world tail wags when I got home, and welcoming “doggie hugs” made me more than somber. Three months ago, he was diagnosed with a very rare liver disease called Hepatocutaneous Syndrome (Oreo Cookie was only the fifth case our 20-year-experienced vet had ever seen) and was in pain. We tried all available treatments, but it was his time. I am happy he is no longer suffering, but am now in the grieving process.
On the heels of my grief, the other event occurred. This time it involved a less furry, human family member. This family member had an accident and suffered an injury on Christmas Day. The injury was scary enough, but it triggered an emotional chain-reaction regression for this member that was even more dramatic. Both the injury and following events were unexpected jolts and became defining life events. The answers to questions I’ve always kept in the back of my mind about this particular family member were suddenly hitting me in the face. The situation and the answers had to be dealt with at the same time. And I won’t lie to you…it was scary to be in that moment. But once I realized I had no choice, the answer became crystal clear: I am in no way capable of providing the help that this member needs; the help I was told at an early age I did provide, and in essence, was responsible for. Once I got to the answer, I was calm and did everything that I could do. We both got through it and I am happy to say this member is, at least, on the physical mend. I won’t get into all the nitty gritty of what getting to this awareness means to me, but know I choose to see the whole experience as a gift – a gift wrapped in an incredibly crummy package, but a gift nonetheless.
“I’ll be back, when the day is new. And I’ll have more ideas for you. And you’ll have things you’ll want to talk about. I will too.” –Fred Rogers
So what does a girl do when coming across something new and life changing? Well in my case I went to my Sunday Boyfriends to talk about it. My East Coast SB was on his most recent photo adventure out West and sent a holiday text to me when I was just leaving the hospital with my family. I didn’t tell him this, but his note was like a lifeline. A reminder that even when something bad is happening to us, good stuff in this life continues to happen all around us. I couldn’t get into everything at the time, but shared with him where I was and that I would be in touch. He told me to hang in there and was there for me. And that is what he was able, and wanting to give at that moment. Yep, a lifeline. So when things calmed down, and I was in a place to better explain, I did. We were thousands of miles apart, and he was in the middle of a beautiful adventure, but he was wanting and able to listen to the things I wanted to talk about. By just listening and letting me get it out, he was more than just a good neighbor…he was my comfortable, always there for me Sunday Boyfriend. Much, much love.
While still in the throes of grief and discovery, My Foodie SB sent a note just after Christmas. Over the past few weeks, I had shared what was going on with Oreo Cookie so he was in the loop. He recently lost a shared pet as well so he was in a commiserating place. He went home for the holidays and learned his sister had just lost her beloved, furry family member, too. So in his note, he shared that with the loss of all three four-legged pals he thought he was a jinx. I told him it was clearly the fuzzy rock star version of threes and he wasn’t the reason for their passing. I then shared my holiday woes and told him I was the jinx. He told me I “won” and gave me the title of Miss Disaster 2012. I chuckled and said thanks, but I don’t want to see the trophy. But then he went further with his “jinxing” feeling.
With the New Year approaching, he shared that he was unhappy with how his life was unfolding. And this made me want to jump through the phone, grab him, and hug him as tight as I could. For My Foodie SB is, and has always been, my sunshine. If he is not feeling “sunny” then the world – my world – isn’t right. But I couldn’t jump through the phone. I could only offer words of encouragement and hope that would be enough. But for everything he means to me, it sure didn’t feel like enough. He said he often feels discouraged when eyeing up potential romantic partners who end up talking to taller, better looking men. This was quite a heartbreaking revelation. What can I say to someone, someone whom I think is one of the most beautiful people on the planet, that when I look at him, I can’t help but feel at ease? Better? At home? I started by asking what the hell does height have to do with anything? He said it apparently matters to the women in his city. I told him he was either in the wrong city or looking at the wrong women. I told him “better looking” was in the same category as “perfect”…it’s all relative. For just like Mr. Rogers said in the opera episode…“No matter what is on the outside, it’s never as much as what’s in.” I hoped my words were at least enough to let him know there is lots of love here if/when he needs it to talk about it and that I’m more than comfortable being here for him when the day is new.
So here’s hoping 2013 is the year we all become a little more Mr. Rogers-like and be better neighbors to one another. For understanding when we get to that comfortable, always there for you place results in more infectious kindness. And couldn’t we all use a little more of that?
As always…stay comfy; be good to yourself and all your Sunday Boyfriends.
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