I Had a Thing for Mr. Rogers


When I was a little girl, I loved watching Mr. Rogers.

I would sit in my living room and stare at the TV, watching so closely and listening to whatever he was talking about, soaking it all in.
I loved his sweater and his shoes, I loved when he would feed the fish.
Admittedly, I didn’t especially love his puppets or the Land of Make Believe, because it felt a little young for five-year-old me.
It could have been an early indicator that I am more of a noticer than an imaginer.
But I loved Mr. Rogers.

If you had asked me forty years ago to name my friends, I might have listed Mr. Rogers.
I was so sure he knew me.
I thought maybe he could see me, just like I could see him.
I had one screen in my living room, and it made perfect sense to me that he had a thousand screens in his studio, so he could see all the children watching him.
I could see him, and he could see me.

But he couldn’t see me. He didn’t know me at all.
If, at any time in his life, you had asked Mr. Rogers if he knew Tricia Lott, he would have said no.
I was watching him, but he couldn’t see me.

We can deceive ourselves in that kind of relationship – one that exists only on a screen.
We can watch week after week, never miss a single episode.
We can quote those people and the things they have taught us.
We can actually list those people as our friends – those people on the screen.
But they can’t see us.

They’re looking at a camera.  They can’t see you.
They can’t really know you, not on those terms.

Now, let me clarify – I am not here to discount the merits of virtual technology, zoom calls, and worshipping online.  Those are the developments that have carried us through the last two years of a pandemic, and I am thankful.  I plugged in and online, and I utilized every single one of those.  I still do. I know firsthand that you can have a very intentional sense of community online, especially if you work at it.

On the morning that Robb died, after we had made as many phone calls as we could, we made the announcement on Facebook.  And that unleashed a firestorm of people alerting people, sharing what had happened in my family.

It began to quickly extend even beyond our circles when someone shared the news on Twitter.  I had been blogging for three years by then, and this person shared my site and my story with the world.  My story went viral for a season.

I wrote through it all – and I’m still writing.  I have published five books now.  My writing is no longer a viral situation, but there is definitely a sense of community.  I don’t have the largest following, but I do think I have the most loyal.  They are people I have never met – an entire sea of them.

If you’re reading this, count yourself among the people I deeply care about, though I’ve maybe never met you.

So, as I said, you’ll never hear me discount the merits of virtual community, zoom calls, and social media.  Those are real avenues that give us access to people we would not otherwise know.  You and I can get almost all of our needs met online.  We can certainly have a sense of community – just like I was in community with Mr. Rogers.

And.  And.  AND.  (Not but.)

There is something remarkable and beautiful and life changing – even lifesaving – about seeing and being seen, knowing and being known.

Let’s scale that back down to what was happening here in that season – in this place, in my community. I was surrounded in every side and in every way – by my community.  My people.
People who knew me, and I knew them.
They could see me, and I could see them.

They gave us everything we needed – meals and trips to the grocery store when that was overwhelming to me.
Childcare and play dates when my children needed to do something fun with a friend.
They cried with me when my heart was broken, and they let me laugh when I needed a day off from sadness.

They knew me, and they knew my children.  They knew my husband. And they did not let us drown in the waves of that storm that could have overtaken my little family.  It was the church at its absolute finest.
They could see me, and I could see them.

Show up for someone today.
Make eye contact.  See them.  Fix what you can fix.
You might change a life.
You might save a life.

There is something remarkable and beautiful and life changing – even lifesaving – about seeing and being seen, knowing and being known.

Tricia Lott Williford

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  1. I was one of those who came to know you virtually in that first season when your story went viral. I read every single post and was enveloped and saddened by your story, I wept and laughed and felt my heart and my mind open and grow as your story took me places that I might never have gone otherwise. And during my own seasons of tragedy and mourning, I have always returned to your wise and honest words and they have helped heal and carry my soul. Thank you so very much Tricia, for sharing your gift of words with us. No message I could ever write could ever describe the value of your writings for me. Sending love and a great big virtual hug to you–

  2. This is my first time to read your post. It is beautifully written and touched my spirit for several reasons. First, Fred Rogers was one of my professors in seminary. He was the same person in class as he was on the screen. I also felt he knew me. . . and I truly believe he was pleased that we knew him. Second, my ministry is focused on those who are home bound, in assisted living, recovering and struggling. To be present and to listen is a gift beyond measure. Many years ago I read a saying that anchors me today: “Knowledge speaks but wisdom listens.” Mister Rogers made listening an art form. Thank you for your heartfelt reminder of Mister Rogers’ impact on the young mind and the value of listening and being present on all the minds out there.

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