It’s not a good word
“I know that,” Mister Rogers said, “and that’s why the prayer I’m going to teach you has only three words.”
He doesn’t know the color of his walls, and one day, when I caught him looking toward his painted skies, I asked him to tell me what color they are, and he said, “I imagine they’re blue, Tom
They are tall-as tall as the cinder-block walls they are designed to hide-and they encompass the Neighborhood’s entire stage set, from the flimsy yellow house where Mister Rogers comes to visit, to the closet where he finds his sweaters, to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, where he goes to dream. The blue walls are the ends of the daylit universe he has made, and yet Mister Rogers can’t see them-or at least can’t know them-because he was born blind to color. ” Then he looked at me and smiled. “I imagine they’re blue.”
And yet still he fights, deathly afraid that the medium he chose is consuming the very things he tried to protect: childhood and silence.
He has spent thirty-one years imagining and reimagining those walls-the walls hookup culture Chattanooga that have both penned him in and set him free. You would think it would be easy by now, being Mister Rogers; you would think that one morning he would wake up and think, Okay, all I have to do is be nice for my allotted half hour today, and then I’ll just take the rest of the day off….But no, Mister Rogers is a stubborn man, and so on the day I ask about the color of his sky, he has already gotten up at five-thirty, already prayed for those who have asked for his prayers, already read, already written, already swum, already weighed himself, already sent out cards for the birthdays he never forgets, already called any number of people who depend on him for comfort, already cried when he read the letter of a mother whose child was buried with a picture of Mister Rogers in his casket, already played for twenty minutes with an autistic boy who has come, with his father, all the way from Boise, Idaho, to meet him. The boy had never spoken, until one day he said, “X the Owl,” which is the name of one of Mister Rogers’s puppets, and he had never looked his father in the eye until one day his father had said, “Let’s go to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe,” and now the boy is speaking and reading, and the father has come to thank Mister Rogers for saving his son’s life….And by this time, well, it’s nine-thirty in the morning, time for Mister Rogers to take off his jacket and his shoes and put on his sweater and his sneakers and start taping another visit to the Neighborhood. He writes all his own scripts, but on this day, when he receives a visit from Mrs. McFeely and a springer spaniel, she says that she has to bring the dog “back to his owner,” and Mister Rogers makes a face. The cameras stop, and he says, “I don’t like the word owner there. Let’s change it to ‘bring the dog home.'” And so the change is made, and the taping resumes, and this is how it goes all day, a life unfolding within a clasp of unfathomable governance, and once, when I lose sight of him, I ask Margy Whitmer where he is, and she says, “Right over your shoulder, where he always is,” and when I turn around, Mister Rogers is facing me, child-stealthy, with a small black camera in his hand, to take another picture for the album that he will give me when I take my leave of him.