My brother and I were too old for Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. We were adults already when the children's program began in 1968, and since neither of us had kids, we had no reason to see it.
That doesn't mean I know nothing of the gentle, soft-spoken television host. A friend worked on his program for a time and Rogers appeared once or twice on a television program I produced.
Earlier this week, TGB reader Carmen Silva emailed a video with a short clip of Mr. Rogers speaking with poet Kenneth Koch.
According to poetryfoundation.org, the video is part of a longer conversation between Rogers and Koch that back in the day was broadcast on a prime time show, Old Friends, New Friends, Rogers created for adults.
”[He] interviewed people about their search for meaning in life. Notable guests included Milton Berle, Hoagy Carmichael, and William Sloane Coffin, plus lesser-known figures like Lesley Frost (second child of Robert and Elinor Frost) and Rogers’s own barber.”
Now, on behalf of The Fred Rogers Company, artist and writer Paul Zelevansky is producing from these conversations a series of 60-second videos called Mr. Rogers for Adults that, he says, address
“...psychological, philosophical, and epistemological concerns of social life and personal responsibility,”
At least one of them, the one with Koch, which was recorded at a senior center many decades ago, speaks to a condition that is particularly poignant in regard to elders. Take a look:
“...all people,” says Koch, “like to feel that they are a necessary part of life, necessary in the world or as you said, life would be poorer if they weren't in it.”
That's not too difficult during our primary midlife activities, raising the next generation who will carry on the work of the world and contributing (hopefully something useful) through our jobs, careers and professions.
It gets harder to believe about ourselves as we grow old. Just about everyone who lives past age 50 or 60 knows what it is like to become invisible to those around us. Age discrimination in the workplace is a painful example of no longer being necessary or wanted that becomes worse, affecting larger numbers of older workers in hard economic times, as now.
The snippet of conversation in the video is too short to even hint at what Rogers and Koch said about having or finding that sense of feeling necessary so let's do it ourselves today.
One obvious solution is volunteering and that certainly works for people who are capable. But what of those are no longer are? What other ways can people feel needed and wanted?
I was still working when I began this blog nearly a decade ago and that it would, in time, give me a strong sense of purpose – which is, of course, a large part of what feeling necessary is – did not enter my mind.
At first, I used it as a place to write down what I was learning about aging from my research and while I wasn't looking, it turned me into an advocate for old people. I am happy with that and for the foreseeable future, the blog gets enough attention from readers and elsewhere that I feel I contribute something.Without TGB, I would undoubtedly find something else to do that would fulfill me (I'm just that way) but I strongly suspect this need of the ego for purpose and recognition declines as we get closer to death. Or, rather, it should.
(To take a bit of a detour here), in her book of five essays on the mysteries of age titled, Old Age, Helen M. Luke speaks to this in a section about Prospero's epilogue spoken to the audience at the end of Shakespeare's The Tempest:
”We are made aware of a startling paradox,” she writes. “The moment of letting go, of daring to stand alone, stripped of power and prestige, bereft of any sense of worth or superior knowledge, is at the same time the moment when such a man or woman becomes conscious of his absolute need of 'the other' both in the this world and in the Beyond.
“A choice between two ways then lies ahead. We may either continue in our last years to cling to our past achievements and worn-out values, thus sinking eventually into complete dependence on others, on collective opinions, demand and attitudes; or we may confront our growing weakness and loss of energy, together with out past rejections, sins and blindness (the “Caliban” within), and so approach that kind of free dependence on 'the other' which brings us to the meaning of forgivemess and to kinship with all things.”
Okay, I'm getting carried away. But that's where the tiny, little video clip of Fred Rogers and Kenneth Koch sent me – to pull out Luke's book and re-read, reconsider some of that particular essay.
Now it's your turn. What do Rogers and Koch have you thinking?
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joyce Benedict: Books Saved My Life