Commentary: Make this a beautiful day in your neighborhood

Tom Hanks is right: We should be allowed to start off our days feeling good.

Hanks stars as Fred “Mister” Rogers in the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” opening Nov. 22. At a press conference after its world premiere at a film festival in Toronto, reports Deadline, Hanks called Rogers’ life an antidote to our cynical times:

“Cynicism has become the default position for so much of daily structure and daily intercourse. Why? Because it’s easy and there’s good money to be made at it. It’s a great product to sell.”

Hanks’ words are regrettably true. Every night, cable-news talking heads lather up niche audiences to drive ratings and profits – to heck with their negative impact on our political discourse.

Fred Rogers had the opposite effect on me and millions of other kids – and he certainly helped me start off my childhood days feeling good.

I had the honor of meeting Rogers once, albeit briefly, as he exited an elevator. I tried to engage him in conversation – forgetting, for several moments, that though he was highly familiar to me, he had no idea who I was.

To me and millions of former 5-year-olds, he was an esteemed guest in our homes.

Tom Purcell

When I was 5, my mornings were gloriously happy. After my two older sisters left for school – how it agitated me that I had to share my mother’s attention with them! – I got to have Mom all to myself.

I’ve never met anyone who enjoys mornings as much as she does. Despite her never-ending chores when I was young, she whistled in the morning – a cheerful habit she learned from her father and passed on to me.

Those mornings were wonderfully tranquil and secure – and got even better when “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” began to air.

Unlike anyone else on television then, Rogers spoke calm, reassuring words directly to us, his young viewers. His stories and lessons – embodying kindness, decency, courtesy and love – helped us to understand and practice virtue.

What a way to start a morning! And what a way to shape a childhood!

The movie’s storyline is about a cynical journalist – based on real-life writer Tom Junod – who reluctantly agrees to write an Esquire profile of Rogers. As the journalist comes to realize that Rogers is as genuine and sincere in real life as he is on his show, he is transformed — and becomes Rogers’ lifelong friend.

Though Rogers died in 2003, his example still promotes incredibly positive energy. The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes puts the movie’s approval rating at 96%, and its critics’ consensus reads: “Much like the beloved TV personality that inspired it, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood offers a powerfully affecting message about acceptance and understanding.”

Fred Rogers’ story makes clear that each of us has a choice to make each morning.

We can be angry, cynical and nasty – a choice I regrettably make more often than I care to admit.

Or we can embrace kindness and charity and do our small part to make the world a better place – a choice that allows us to do what Tom Hanks said we should be allowed to do.

Thank goodness that Fred Rogers still helps us choose to start off our days feeling good.

Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir available at amazon.com, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist.

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