On November 23 I had a lovely getaway with my two beautiful nieces. We promised a day to ourselves to watch A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a film about Mr. Rogers. He has remained a hero of ours. The movie was all we had hoped it would be, and our time together was yet another reminder of why I love my nieces so very much.
I did not realize how I had underestimated Mr. Rogers as a catalyst for children’s education until I saw a documentary about him last year called Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Even though he is someone I have reflected on since childhood, my thoughts about Mr. Rogers since last year have taken on much deeper dimensions over his influence and courage to speak truth, hope, love, and words of perseverance to the most fragile and influential among us.
At one point in the film, Tom Hanks, in quintessential Mr. Rogers delivery, looked at a reporter who had been beaten into cynicism about life and asked him to be still and reflect on all the people who had “loved him into being.” That moment caused my heart to pound louder and harder and stop all at the same time. What amazing power in that one act, was what my mind kept repeating. Jesus was the first to come to my mind. Shortly thereafter, a nanosecond later, the part of my mind that is in direct communication with my heart broke loose with a flood of the faces and the names of souls who loved me into being the man I am today. I needed more than a simple single-ply tissue. I was grateful for the ample supply of napkins inches from the popcorn resting on the empty seat to my left.
I found the act of contemplating who has loved me into being both rocket-fuel powerful and graciously disarming to my heart and all of its defenses. Many times since then I have recalled countless moments to call forth the act of gratitude in knowing who is rooted in my existence. If who we are is a collection of all our experiences, including all our soul connections, then I want my family, friends, and colleagues to know that they are people I genuinely acknowledge as parts of my collective being. They have been part of my being loved into the person I was yesterday, who I am today, and who I will be tomorrow. Therefore, they are carried forth within my existence. I really like that thought more so because my spirit recognizes the truth of it. It reinforces the biblical adage of us being one bread and one body.
For this Christmas, and throughout 2020, know that you are walking in my shoes, beating in my heart, and resting in my soul.
Rubén G. Perez has been in education since 1988. His firsthand experience with students considered at-risk (school dependent) comes from various positions. In K–8 he taught general education, English language learners, and preforming arts. As a district administrator for K–12, he focused on closing the achievement gap, teacher retention, economic and cultural diversity, and districtwide dropout interventions. He specialized in working with students who felt disenfranchised with school and the community around them. He is well familiar with effective techniques that work with students who are predisposed to tantrums and apathy.