“I believe that appreciation is a holy thing, that when we look for what’s best in the person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does; so in appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.” ~ Fred Rogers (via my friend Melissa Banek)

“And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 18:3 (NIV)

We were sitting on the bus this morning, and Mac asked me the date. I looked at my phone. “March 20th. You know what? It’s Mr. Rogers’ birthday.”

Mac looked at me and raised his eyebrows. “How in the world did you -? Never mind.” Mac figured out long ago to not ask why my head is full of this stuff.

I remembered that today was Mr. Rogers’ birthday. Yes, several news outlets have reported it, and I’m sure I’m not the first blogger to do a related post. But I knew because he told me on his show all those years ago, when he was talking about birthdays, that his birthday was March 20th.

It blows my mind to think I’ve held on to that little bit of trivia for decades. But that shows how deep those early connections run. And boy did I connect with Mr. Rogers. I have vivid memories of playing on the little green swing set in our backyard, or in the sandbox, and my Mom yelling out the back door. “Mark, guess what? Mr. Rogers is on!” And every last time. I would run in like it was Christmas.

I loved that he had puppets who lived in a Land of Make Believe that you could only access through the trolley. I loved that he would take his “neighbors” on tours of important places like the candy factory. And I loved the music. By some magic, he was able to sneak in jazz music to a kids’ show. To this day, I still love piano-based jazz music, and I have Mr. Rogers to thank for it.

What I loved most of all was that he talked to me. When you’re 5 years old, it makes perfect sense that the guy on TV is talking to you. I think I liked Mr. Rogers because he was the only one who got it. Why didn’t anybody else on TV talk to me? And the things he said, about everybody being special, and about loving your neighbor, rung true.

Now I’m all grown up. I know that it’s not cool to have people on TV talking to you. I roll my eyes at Dora and the like. Or maybe Dora’s just looking at the wrong map.

Maybe I should be more like that excited little kid I used to be. Treat everyone like they are special, and love my neighbor. Maybe I’ve made things a little too complicated.

Mr. Rogers loved kids, and he loved his neighbors. And he didn’t talk about it much, but he loved God too, and it shone through in every one of his shows.

Happy birthday, Mr. Rogers. It’s amazing that I still remember it. Sorry I forgot all those cool things you taught us. Maybe I can try to remember those things, too.