Monday, March 19, 2018

You are my friend, you are special - Part 2

A friend once argued to me that if you treat everybody as special, then nobody is special.

I disagreed. Maybe that came from being raised, in part, on a diet of Mister Rogers. He taught inclusion and acceptance - "I like you just for being you." His signature song - one of them, anyway - had a beautiful message, and a beautiful structure:

You are my friend, you are special
you are my friend
you're special to me

There is nobody else like you
like you, my friend
I like you.

********

Like so many things from this show, this song stuck with me.

When my cat Scooter was dying two years ago, I found myself doing anything I could to soothe him, comfort him, keep him relaxed and calm. I would tell him stores, sing him songs, anything I could think of. One was a slightly modified version of the Mister Rogers song: "You are my cat, you are special, you are my cat..." I sang it to him in the last minutes of his life.

We have another cat dying now. Joey, our oldest. He has been with us nearly eighteen years, and he has been fading slowly for the last year or so. We didn't think he would make it to Christmas, so this is bonus time. But he is still able to eat, drink, poop, pee, and decide where he wants to be. We think he is blind, or mostly blind; his eyes have been widely dilated for months, with no response to light, but if he is blind he navigates the house pretty well. I have been sleeping near him for the last few weeks, so I can respond quickly if he begins to cry if he is hungry or lost or in distress. Lately I have found that the easiest way to stop his crying is to scoop him up and put him next to me. He will immediately stop crying and begin purring, and after a few minutes he will get up and walk away.

Last night, thinking of this post, I began to sing "You Are My Cat" to Joey as he lay beside me. I noticed Romeo and Peaches looking on somewhat jealously. I quickly pluralized the song to "You Are My Cats," and they seemed satisfied.

********

For five weeks in the summer of 1984, I lived in Mister Rogers' neighborhood.

I was selected to represent my Intermediate Unit at the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences. Eighty of us went out to Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh to get intensive training in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and computer science. It was a grueling, exhausting program, but an experience I will always treasure.

We had been told that Mister Rogers lived in a high-security apartment building not far from campus. People would sometimes see him driving past or through the campus in his two-toned Cadillac. On at least one occasion he had been swarmed by a crowd of over-enthusiastic fans.

One day - it was probably a Saturday, because we did not have classes that day, and I was probably heading to the library to do some research on my chosen lab topic of non-classical femtochemistry - I was walking across the campus. The path from Hamerschlag House, where we were staying, to the rest of the campus cut across several lightly-traveled streets. As I approached the crosswalk on one of these streets a car rolled up to the stop sign, a two-toned black-and-gray Cadillac. Remembering the stories, I looked up to see Fred Rogers at the wheel. My eyes got huge with surprise, and he turned to me with an equally surprised look. For a moment, our eyes locked.

And then he drove off. He had somewhere to go, and so did I. But I would always remember how I had sort-of met Mister Rogers, right in his own neighborhood.

1 comment:

Michelle Hryvnak Davies said...

His "writing apartment" was somewhere either on campus or very close to campus. The guy I was training with pointed it out to me after I first started. I don't remember what the building was called. I think it's a student dorm building now though.