When my grandmother was a young girl, her favorite gift on Christmas Day was an orange. In the 1930’s, the depression affected farmers in Iowa as well and Christmases rarely looked like the piles of brightly wrapped parcels beneath the tree like we see (and expect) today. But even though times were tough, Grandma had that one relative with means who would order a crate of oranges from Florida every Christmas and give them out to his grateful relatives. My grandmother’s brothers would snarf their oranges quickly with glee, but Grandma would peel it deliberately, and only just enough to bring out one segment, content with the gift and content with her daily portion. Then she would put the rest away until the next day when she would do the same and continue thusly until the peel was empty.
For those of us living a near century later, oranges seem far less special because ease and familiarity have caused us to forget how truly special it is to eat one in the Midwest in December. A clementine orange peel lays next to me as I write this. We buy them by the bag-full for the kids…and their parents. Clementine’s are a low commitment fruit for the consumer because you can peel them just fine with your fingers without making a big mess. Yet this orange I ate today, though smaller and more convenient, shares a similarity with the oranges my grandmother would eat once a year – beyond their round shape and color. They both required a lot of hands to get them into ours. Many people participated in the process of deciding to plant an orange tree, water it, prune it, weed around it, and tend to its health as it grew. Then when the tree produced the oranges, someone had to harvest them, wash them, box them up, and deliver them to a store. At the store they needed to be unpacked, stacked and maintained as the fruit waited to be selected, brought home, washed again, and placed in the bowl on the counter until the moment when we’d walk past it and say to ourselves “Hmm… I think I’d like an orange right now.” Then our participation involves peeling, piecing it out, checking for seeds, and then, after all that, we get to take that delicious first bite.
A lot of hands, a lot of people, a lot of purpose cultivated and cared for that seed in the ground until it finally became the fruit in your mouth. And just like that orange had many hands that made it what it became, we also are the beneficiaries of the lives and work and love of others too.
One such person many of us have benefitted from is “Mister Rogers.” For 33 years, starting in 1968 and airing its final episode on August 31st, 2001 (with a 3-year production hiatus from ‘76-’79), our television neighbor would look into the camera at his studio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and imagine he was talking with just one child. Fred was an ordained Presbyterian Minister, and although his PBS program did not proclaim it overtly, he believed, as many of us did, that his work was making space for the children to see themselves how God sees them. The slow, deliberate pace of the show itself was intended to protect silence in a noisy world, a silence that might ultimately inspire a connection with the Divine. In her book “The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers,” Amy Hollingsworth writes:
Fred Rogers was one of those who was very far advanced in the Lord’s service and who often employed the prayer of silence. It wasn’t just the absence of noise he advocated, but silence that reflects on the goodness of God, the goodness of what and whom He made. Silence to think about those who have helped us. He knew that silence leads to reflection, that reflection leads to appreciation, and that appreciation looks about for someone to thank: “I trust that they will thank God, for it is God who inspires and informs all that is nourishing and good,” he once said.
In 1997, as he accepted a lifetime achievement award at the Emmy’s, Mister Rogers made such a space for the elite of Hollywood to do their own silent reflecting.
“So many people have helped me to come to this night. Some of you are here, some are far away and some are even in Heaven. All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are? Those who cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life. 10 seconds, I’ll watch the time.”
After a moment of scattered uncomfortable laughter, the room fills with a grand silence. Icons of culture are accepting this invitation to become ‘like a child’. The camera cuts to faces that are reflective, admiring, and tearful. On the night where he was the man of honor, Fred Rogers chose to direct that honor back to those who have blessed the lives of his audience. During a ceremony that offered thanks to him for his work, he made space for their own personal gratitude for those who had helped them along the way to achieve the success that permitted them to be in that room of ‘elites.’ And, I suspect, Fred thought that through that moment of gratitude, perhaps thanks might be raised to God as well.
So now for us too, it is a good day, as is every day, to take a moment and remember the ones who have poured into our lives, those who have “loved us into being.” Who has gone before you? Who has paved the way for you? Who has – in big or small ways – spoken life and love into your being? Who has joined God’s good work, consciously or not, of making you who you are today and who you are becoming tomorrow?
Sometimes this reflection can be difficult because people are not always like our television neighbor. Mister Rogers was always kind and affirming, always there at the same time each day. You could even get bored with him and stop watching for a while, but he’d always be there when you came back – zipping his cardigan and lacing his house shoes. But in life on this side of the television screen, rarely will we find a person from our past that is so completely devoid of all baggage as he.
Sometimes the people we needed weren’t there when we needed them to be.
Sometimes they said things we didn’t need them to say or didn’t say things we needed them to.
Sometimes hurts were done and healing was/is needed, and forgiveness was/is required.
Sometimes people didn’t say “I’m sorry.”
Sometimes people didn’t say “You are special to me.”
Sometimes people didn’t say “I love you.”
…and if we are honest, there are times we have not done or said what others have needed, too.
Even so, we are all here because somewhere along the line someone fought against selfish human nature and did something to help us. Someone at some moment, however long or brief, chose love in a moment when it counted – even if they didn’t make that choice every time.
May this reflection, even a complicated one, inspire gratitude and grace.
May we overlook the offenses we can, forgive what we can, and pray for God’s good grace in the places where we are powerless on our own. May we be grateful for the good.
May we find some contentment in our portions – in what has become part of our story. May we trust His good hands to continue forming us – redeeming and transforming even our hurts.
May any ache inspire us to let God turn curses into blessing so we might participate in His good work in the lives of those who need such good things from us.
So many hands have brought us from seed to the full being that sits here right now reading these words. We are all like my grandmother’s oranges. We did not become who we are alone. An appropriate response to this is a moment of silent gratitude.
So, would you just take, along with me and Fred, 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are? Those who cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life.
We’ll watch the time.
 Hollingsworth, Amy. The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World’s Most Beloved Neighbor (p. 31). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Adam is a vagabond of the arts. He is an animator by training, a media specialist by vocation and a writer by hobby. Though he “still hasn’t found what he’s looking for”, in his wandering through the arts he has found the firm conviction that God has been writing His story through our stories since the beginning, and He’s not done yet. Adam and his wife Sarah have 3 children and live in Northern Colorado. His artistic interests range from G.K. Chesterton to Looney Tunes.