Fred Rogers told me that he liked me just as I am.
And I believed him.
Why not? I was a kid.
He sang about it. About him liking me “exactly and precisely,” “without a doubt or question” just as I am.
Why would he lie?
I’m about 15 years old.
The last class period of the day is over.
I am looking to hang with someone.
Being with people helps me feel seen. Real.
So, I do a sweep of the 6th floor library looking.
None of my friends are there.
So I exit to the stairwell and count each of the 42 steps up to the 8th floor.
Don Sorell isn’t in the music office.
Sometimes he and I chat.
In the future, after George Floyd, I’ll find a link for him—now Head of the Collegiate School Music Department—on the school website and we’ll reconnect a bit.
He’ll remind me that my dad had the Victor Hugo quote —”There is no force as powerful as an idea whose time has come”—on his business card.
He’ll also be the first person I know of to contract and die of COVID.
I meander into the art room.
Sometimes I do homework there with friends. Or just goof around thinking about doing homework.
“Can I help you?” asks an attentive woman I do not know in the green canvas smock.
“Nah, just wandering. Meandering, actually,” I say.
She beams, “Would you like to try the still life the 4th grade class was just painting?”
Maybe it’s easier for children to believe someone likes us just as we are because they are closer to the age when people, hopefully got love for just being.
Adults are a bit more skeptical about messages of love.
Many adults, maybe even you, believe, “If you really got to know me, you wouldn’t still love me.”
The green smocked lady brings me over to a tableau of shoes on the table and pulls out a chair, inviting me to sit.
She tells me she’s a sub for the lower schoolers, and “wouldn’t you like to try your hand at a watercolor this afternoon?”
Spellbound, I put down my backpack and start on a pencil outline on a 8.5 x 5.5 inch sheet of watercolor paper.
What if we allowed love in?
What if we stopped repeating and believing the terrible things we tell ourselves?
What if we allowed ourselves to be as we were as children, lovable exactly as we are?
“I love it,” she says minutes later.
“No, the colors, the abstraction. It’s really quite good.”
I look at it. It looks nothing like the reality I see.
She is probably one of these “happy with everything in life” type people.
Or she is comparing my work to that of the little kids she worked with all day.
Could it be?
When I get into my office in the morning, I see someone doodled on a piece of paper with a red sharpie.
The clue to the artist’s identity isn’t that hard to figure out—they also left their shoes, their backpack, an empty bowl, and some candy wrappers.
Emmett likes to use my home-office set-up when I’m done for the day.
I sit back and enjoy the sketch—a fire-head with a large mustache, and big eyes.
I like it.
Is it empirically good?
I dunno that.
But I know logic. I’m horrible biased. I like it because I like the artist.
And logic says IF I am able to love his art—however good or bad it is—just because you love him THEN I ought to be able to do the same for my art—or whatever else I do.
Frequently following the compliment—“your high school students must have loved you”—I am asked why I stopped teaching high school.
I explain, “I found a population more desperate for my cajoling into knowing they are loved.”
Then I pause, they usually look up, I make eye contact, and continue: “you.”
You might not believe me, ____<insert your name here___>.
And, that’s ok.
You can even deny it.
But, Mr. Rogers and I still know it is true. You are loveable exactly as you are.