If Mister Rogers can tell me how to read that clock, I'll watch his show
every day for a year"—that's what someone in the crowd said while
watching Mister Rogers and Maya Lin crane their necks at Maya Lin's big
fancy clock, but it didn't even matter whether Mister Rogers could read
the clock or not, because every time he looked at it, with the television
cameras on him, he leaned back from his waist and opened his mouth wide
with astonishment, like someone trying to catch a peanut he had tossed into
the air, until it became clear that Mister Rogers could show that he was
astonished all day if he had to, or even forever, because Mister Rogers
lives in a state of astonishment, and the astonishment he showed when he
looked at the clock was the same astonishment he showed when people—absolute
strangers—walked up to him and fed his hungry ear with their whispers,
and he turned to me, with an open, abashed mouth, and said, "Oh, Tom,
if you could only hear the stories I hear!"
ONCE UPON A TIME, Mister Rogers went to New York City and got caught in
the rain. He didn't have an umbrella, and he couldn't find a taxi, either,
so he ducked with a friend into the subway and got on one of the trains.
It was late in the day, and the train was crowded with children who were
going home from school. Though of all races, the schoolchildren were mostly
black and Latino, and they didn't even approach Mister Rogers and ask
him for his autograph. They just sang. They sang, all at once, all together,
the song he sings at the start of his program, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?"
and turned the clattering train into a single soft, runaway choir.
HE FINDS ME, OF COURSE, AT PENN STATION. He finds me, because that's what
Mister Rogers does—he looks, and then he finds. I'm standing against
a wall, listening to a bunch of mooks from Long Island discuss the strange
word—a foreign word—he has written down on each of the autographs
he gave them. First mook: "He says it's the Greek word for grace."
Second mook: "Huh. That's cool. I'm glad I know that. Now, what is
grace?" First mook: "Looks like you're gonna have to break down
and buy a dictionary." Second mook: "What I'm buying is a ticket
to the Lotto. I just met Mister Rogers—this is definitely my lucky
day." I'm listening to these guys when, from thirty feet away, I
notice Mister Rogers looking around for someone and know, immediately,
that he is looking for me. He is on one knee in front of a little girl
who is hoarding, in her arms, a small stuffed animal, sky-blue, a bunny.
"Remind you of anyone, Tom?" he says when I approach the two
of them. He is not speaking of the little girl.
"Yes, Mister Rogers."
"Looks a bit like…Old Rabbit, doesn't it, Tom?"
"Yes, Mister Rogers."
"I thought so." Then he turns back to the little girl. "This
man's name is Tom. When he was your age, he had a rabbit, too, and he
loved it very much. Its name was Old Rabbit. What is yours named?"
The little girl eyes me suspiciously, and then Mister Rogers. She goes
a little knock-kneed, directs a thumb toward her mouth. "Bunny Wunny,"