A Chance Meeting With Mr. Rogers

Fred Rogers rehearses the opening of his PBS show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" in 1989. (AP Photo / Gene J. Puskar)

When disaster strikes, people often quote Mr. Rogers: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Did he really say that? It turns out, that yes, yes he did. And, as Anthony Breznican recounts after randomly meeting Mr. Rogers after the death of his grandfather, the ultimate neighbor was as kind and thoughtful in real-life as his cardigan-wearing, television alter-ego.

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood ran until 2001, but I lost touch with it as I got older. That’s how it goes. But in college, one day, I rediscovered it, just when I needed it.

We rode down in silence, and when the doors opened, he let me go out first. I stepped out but quickly turned back around. “Mr. Rogers… I don’t mean to bother you. But I just wanted to say thanks.”

Then he opened the student union door and said goodbye. That’s when I blurted in a kind of rambling gush that I’d stumbled on the show again recently, at a time when I truly needed it. He listened there in the doorway, the bitter Pittsburgh winter wind flowing around him into the warm lobby bustling with students.

When I ran out of words, I just said, “So … thanks for that. Again.”

Mr. Rogers nodded. He looked down, and let the door close again. He undid his scarf and motioned to the window, where he sat down on the ledge.

This is what set Mr. Rogers apart. No one else would’ve done this. No one.

He said, “Do you want to tell me what was upsetting you so?”

So I sat. And I told him the truth. I told him my grandfather had just died. He was one of the few good things I had. I felt adrift. Brokenhearted.

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