Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Vacation to the High Museum in Atlanta

For a few hours, I commuted to Atlanta with my friend Susan, stopped worrying about Mom and politics, and learned once again at the High Museum's exhibitions "Outliers" and "Winnie the Pooh," that the pleasures of art begin with the question, "Oh!  What's this?" and deepen with more questions, "Why did the artist do it that way?  How did the artist do that?"

First, we examined three "waves" of artists the High calls "outliers," or self-taught, paired with trained "vanguard" artists who admired their work.  The "second wave" featured works from the late-1960s and the 1970s that were a vexation to my spirit; likewise the "third wave" from the past couple of decades, though Kara Walker's series of superimposed silhouettes of African American figures on 1880s etchings of the Civil War was fascinating in conception and execution.

But the first "wave" of so-called "primitive" artists made us laugh and marvel.  The earliest works in the exhibit were by Edward Hicks, including his biggest hit, "The Peaceable Kingdom."  Besides appreciating the vision from Isaiah of lions, wolves, lambs, and cattle making nice, we enjoyed how the painted shoreline shows through the image of William Penn making peace with Native Americans, evidence that Hicks added this latter-day Lion and Lamb image as an afterthought.  Other works of his were new to us, slices of life as he saw it in the early 1800s.  In one, we see in the foreground a herd of cattle, each one solid and differentiated with personality, looking placidly at the viewer; against a background of rolling hills and barn, we might miss the men, barely sketched in, who gesture in regard to the herd.  On another large canvas, Hicks preserved images of home, a textile mill, barns, river, animals, and one guy watching it all with a telescope from a clearing on the hill above the manor house.

We enjoyed wood sculptures by Jose Delores Lopez on the theme of Adam and Eve. One has them in carnal embrace, but she's looking over her shoulder.  In another, the tree's twisting branches camouflage the twisted serpent; while Eve reaches up to the forbidden fruit, Adam hangs his head as he reaches out for what Eve has -- "submissive," Susan said. Or maybe mournful?

Self-taught artist Horace Pippin (1888-1946) produced a couple images we loved of African Americans' homes in Pennsylvania.  One shows the boy on the left, kneeling in prayer at his bed; snow gathering in dark panes in the center; a woman sewing in her rocking chair at the right.  Another picture made us laugh out loud: no people in sight, but around sixteen ceramic dogs are collected on the mantel, arranged by height to mount towards an elaborate clock.  Details of the rug, chairs, even the grain of the wood paneling, are all lovingly preserved.

Pippin was an influence on "vanguard" artist Jacob Lawrence, whose wonderful picture "Sidewalk Drawings" didn't attract my attention.  Susan called me back to appreciate the perspective: We're looking down on kids making chalk drawings on black top.  Suddenly, I was enjoying layer on layer of fun images and incongruous juxtapositions.  [See photo]

                                                         We also loved "American Interior" by Charles Sheeler, 1934.  There's no story here, no person to identify with, not even a single perspective.  But, once more, we get the loving details of rug patterns and textures.  There's the artist's exuberance, where sunlight causes a corner of the whicker chair to jump off the canvas at us.  In the vase, we see reflections of the room, and, through those, we see the picture on the plate!  The more we look, the more we see to enjoy.  [See photo]

After that exhibit, we moved on to see first drafts of E. H. Shepard's drawings for A. A. Milne's classic children's books.  I admit that I've barely given Pooh a thought since I leafed through the books during "nap time" before age six. I couldn't read, but actor Maurice Evans read several stories aloud on a pair of LPs, and those I played over and over.  The exhibit's commentary helped me to appreciate some elements in the collaboration between writer and artist, how body language expresses each character, how sequences of drawings could prolong the comic effect in Milne's narrative, how the drawings sometimes helped young minds to appreciate irony in the words.

I noticed a preponderance of drawings from behind characters, a choice that makes sense: they're moving forward in their story, not at us.  Facing away, their postures tell the story.  Besides, the rumps are funny.  Again, we saw where Shepard erased, enlarged, and wrote notes to himself.

After the High, Susan and I continued our self-education in the ways of MARTA, taking the train to Decatur.  It's like a college campus for grown-ups!  At Leon's, we enjoyed tasty vegetarian sandwiches, hummus, and midday cocktails.  [See photo]

Sunday, July 15, 2018

59th Birthday

I rode 59 miles on the Silver Comet Trail to celebrate my 59th birthday, averaging 16.1 miles per hour.   When I started this tradition at 34 years old, it seemed like a good idea.  My retired colleague Harry Guckert, seeing me at the Publix store after, said, "Your 90th birthday will kill you!" I said, "Well, that's kinda the plan."

[Photo: Me after a rain storm mid-way in my 59 miles]

Mom gave me a nice check and a coaster with the motto, "Martinis -- they're not just for breakfast anymore."  Perfect!

On the 15th, I read Amos in church, and we had a great sermon about the true meaning of church as expressed in Ephesians.  At the home, they lost Mom.  Somehow, she eluded the security systems and got lost in the garden of the "Evergreen" section of the home, reserved for hardcore memory cases.  She laughed and laughed!  I enjoyed seeing seven or eight blue-clad officials of the home searching everywhere for her.

Todd and his wife Alice came to visit.  I read some poetry by Linda Pastan. The CBC's Jazz91 brought out an archived interview between gracious pianist Marian MacPartland and supreme vocalist/pianist Carmen McRae, two musicians I've loved since the late 1970s. Mia decided she wanted to sit on my lap.  [Photo]

 Then I enjoyed making pizza with Susan, listening to the CBC's jazz  station.

Fine 59th.

Reagan's Final Speech: "Your Best Hopes, Not Your Worst Fears"

His elegant farewell note lay a couple years in the future, when he would write with gratitude for those who would be seeing him through to the end of dementia; but he didn't make another public speech after his endorsement of George H. W. Bush at the Republican National Convention in 1992.  What he said in conclusion struck me more forcefully than anything else in the speech, and I've been surprised not to hear it quoted more often:

And whatever else history may say about me when I'm gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty's lamp guiding your steps and opportunity's arm steadying your way.

Dinosaur on Bastille Day

[Photo: The author, riding around Stone Mountain Park, GA, happened upon the park's "Dinosaureum."]

On July 14th, Bastille Day, I think of words about the French Revolution by a man of the time, Edmund Burke, Anglo-Irish parliamentarian who supported American independence.  He was spiritual patriarch of conservatism as I knew it, before I became the dinosaur that I am today.

Responding in the early 1790s to the Terror that quickly emerged from the euphoric chaos of Bastille Day, Burke told how he'd met the charming Marie Antoinette in her youth.  He deplored the revolutionary mob's treatment of her: "The age of chivalry has passed; the age of economists and calculators has succeeded."  He added, "To them, a Queen is just a woman, and a woman is just an animal, an animal not of the highest sort."

When I unpack those words, I find all the elements of conservatism that I value.  Economic theories take a back seat to humanity. Burke would have us all be courteous to royalty and non-royalty alike, with special care for the defenseless. [See my 2015 reflection on Burke and Bastille, "Logic and Faith: How to Judge Value."]

Unlike "etiquette," formalities intended to distinguish upper-class from lower, "courtesy" is an attitude towards individuals, essential to conservatism as I learned it.  Courtesy on a societal scale is "justice", and its partner "rule of law" applies up and down the social scale, to prevent both tyranny of the elite and tyranny of the mob.

I trace my conservatism back to Burke.  I see it in Abraham Lincoln's insistence that, while minority rule is unthinkable, the rule of the majority must be limited by laws to protect the interests of the minority. Theodore Roosevelt was gung-ho bootstraps and laissez-faire until activist Jacob Riis showed him tenements crowded with hard-working immigrant families trapped in a system that amounted to a slavery, and TR worked ever-after for a "fair deal."  The figurehead for conservatism in my first forty years was National Review's creator and editor-in-chief William F. Buckley, who counted arch-liberals among his close friends. (The Buckleys and the Ted Kennedys shared a ski vacation every winter.)

Early in the Reagan years, George F. Will wrote a book-length essay Statecraft as Soulcraft to lay out a conservative vision of a state that actively models, ensures, and inculcates the values that must be shared for democracy to work.  My list of those conservative values would include courtesy, openness to information and ideas, and  respect for prescribed legal and political processes even when the results don't go our way.  My list would not include tax - cuts - no - matter - the - situation,  or demonization of foreigners, the Media, or the other party.  This makes me a conservative dinosaur.

I'm not alone. In the past couple of years, prominent conservatives besides George Will, including members of Congress, have expressed alienation from the party they thought they belonged to.  Among these are historian Max Boot, Republican strategist Steven Schmidt, speechwriter and head of George W. Bush's faith initiative Michael Gerson, former evangelical activist Rob Schenck, and Bill Kristol, longtime editor at the National Review after Buckley.  

Like the dinosaurs, we're looking at a world we don't recognize.  Also like the dinosaurs, we have to admit that  the change has been a long time coming.  Gerson's 2007 book Heroic Conservatism carries the subtitle "Why Republicans Need to Embrace America's Ideals (And Why They Deserve to Fail If They Don't)."  He didn't anticipate that the party's continuing to reject those ideals would result in electoral success, but he wasn't writing just about elections.

David Frum, another speechwriter for George W. Bush, saw the ground shifting under him in 2011:

America desperately needs a responsible and compassionate alternative to the Obama administration’s path of bigger government at higher cost. And yet: This past summer, the GOP nearly forced America to the verge of default just to score a point in a budget debate. In the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, Republican politicians demand massive budget cuts and shrug off the concerns of the unemployed. In the face of evidence of dwindling upward mobility and long-stagnating middle-class wages, my party’s economic ideas sometimes seem to have shrunk to just one: more tax cuts for the very highest earners. When I entered Republican politics, during an earlier period of malaise, in the late seventies and early eighties, the movement got most of the big questions—crime, inflation, the Cold War—right. This time, the party is getting the big questions disastrously wrong.
Frum compares "conservatives" at the time of his article to those of just a few years before:
  • While Bush defended the "earned-income tax credit" from attempts to "balance the budget on the backs of the poor," members of his own party called low wage earners "lucky ducks" for not owing Federal taxes.
  • Bush "routinely invoked 'churches, synagogues, and mosques'" but in 2010 members of his party called it "an outrageous insult" to build a mosque near Ground Zero  
  • Conservatives attacked the Affordable Care Act, though it was modeled on a public - and - private health care plan proposed by Republicans in the Senate to be a conservative alternative to Clinton's proposal.
  • "Today, stimulative fiscal policy that includes tax cuts for almost every American is 'socialism.' In 2001, stimulative fiscal policy that included tax cuts for rather fewer Americans was an economic­-recovery program."
Frum concludes: "I can’t shrug off this flight from reality and responsibility as somebody else’s problem. I belonged to this movement; I helped to make the mess."

As dinosaurs, what are our choices?  One option is off the table, for me: the discourteous personal attacks on public officials going about their private lives at restaurants and movie theatres.

Historian Jon Meacham has written a book that may contain some answers.  The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels collects episodes from our history when, as now, the discourse degenerated.  He cautioned in an interview that his message was not, "We've been here before, so you don't have to worry," but, "We've been here before, and here's how we've gotten out of it before."

Okay, I'm ready to read.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Uncle Sam and Aunt Harriet: A July 4th Memory

My Aunt Harriet, so accommodating most of the time, insisted on celebrating July 4th her way. She had me load her walker into the car for a drive to the supermarket so that she herself could pick out the right buns, Brats (rhymes with "lots"), sauerkraut, condiments, and corn on the cob.  At sundown, she would supervise me at the grill, and we'd watch Public TV's Capital Fourth.

I was aunt-sitter at the split-level home in Chanhassen, Minnesota for which my cousin Ann and her husband Ken had made Harriet an apartment on the lower level.  While Ann and Ken got away for a couple of weeks, I was warned never to leave Aunt Harriet for longer than an hour, because of her diabetes and the risk of falling.  Ann left us a strict schedule: blood sugar test at 7:30 a.m., pills, breakfast; mid-morning snack; lunch; mid-afternoon snack; blood test, pills and dinner.  Between these critical points, I re-designed my website, and walked Harriet's sweet and yappy little dog "Annie."

The routine might seem restrictive, but I look back on the two weeks as a golden time.  My life, like my recreational biking, has long been a steady round of predictable features: school semesters, seasons of the Church's liturgical calendar. But those two weeks out of my life made a charming passage, like the little nature trail that I passed through on my 52-minute bike route around Chanhassen's streets.

Within that passage, Aunt Harriet's special 4th stood out like the tiny lemon-yellow Minnesota Gold Finch -- first I'd ever seen -- that darted out of the brush and dipped in the air just ahead of my bike in that little nature reserve.  The Fourth was a private celebration of national and personal history that reminds me of everything I loved about her.

Those brats and sauerkraut, so German, must've reminded Harriet of childhood in Cincinnati, where immigrant families in her neighborhood still spoke German. When she was born October 4, 1921, the German names of Cincinnati's streets had just been Anglicized in the patriotic anti-Kaiser frenzy attending our nation's entry into the Great War.

She and her younger brother lived well in the 20s, but everything changed with the Depression.  Her father, guilty of some shady dealing -- to pay for Harriet's medical needs, I've been told -- lost not only his job, but hope for getting another. Everyone else worked: Harriet sewed, her mother cleaned homes, and her younger brother sold newspapers and got work  at Proctor and Gamble.  In the Depression's worst year, her littlest brother -- my dad --  was born, asthmatic, requiring expensive and constant care. The rest of their lives, his two older siblings could get pretty bitter about what they'd had before the family lost it all.

But Harriet was a fighter.  Speaking at her memorial service in January 2009, my dad told the story of some bully at the bus stop lighting a match, the Sulphur in it setting off an asthma attack for him.  "Sis chased the boy all the way to his house, through his front door, up into his bedroom, and she beat him up."

She married a medical student named Bert, and, as she told it, she did all the studying to get him through Johns Hopkins in the late Forties.  By the time she met me, her toddling nephew, she was living the high life in LA, circa 1962, where her husband was surgeon to the stars.  (When Oscar - winning actor Spencer Tracy died on the operating table, Uncle Bert was one of the doctors.) Her life was still a struggle, involving alcohol, infidelity, and, by the 1980s, her husband's Alzheimer's. Her mother, recently widowed, came to help look after Bert; after he died, Harriet had to take care of her mother.

Up to that point in her story, I'd rarely seen Aunt Harriet.  I'd seen my mother's family in Cincinnati every summer of my life; but my California family was out of reach except for special occasions every few years.  Harriet liked to recall how, around age three, I tapped her awake in the middle of the night to whisper that I couldn't find my way to the potty.

Once she'd moved to the east coast, to North Carolina, I could drive up to see her and my grandmother pretty regularly.  We found we had a lot in common.  We were the family's only two Episcopalians, the only keyboard players, and the only fans of the composer Olivier Messiaen.  We shared mystery stories, and she taught me some of the obscure little words and names that you need for crossword-puzzles  (ort, adit, Ara, and Ott). We loved dogs, and we enjoyed cooking, even with her restricted diet.

She moved to Minnesota when my father took my grandmother to a nursing home.

On the 4th, I asked if she minded my making a martini. Was that kosher, A.A. - wise?   No problem, she said, adding, "Gin was my drink."  I remember:  She let me have the olives from her martinis at my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary.  In fact, I've always reacted to the aroma of gin the way others do to chocolate chip cookies or baby powder, as a whiff of a warm, loving childhood. She may be the source of that!

We enjoyed our Brats, tuned in the music on TV, and watched while the slow Minnesota sun took its sweet time to set.

Tonight, it's just me and Mia, and the mysterious neighbor whose home is dark and quiet except when he has buddies over for fireworks on New Year's and the 4th.  I've got my martini, my brats, my sides, and my gratitude for Aunt Harriet.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Baroque Passion

Music lovers I know draw their line at Baroque.  They want emotion, they say.

Conductor / composer Leonard Bernstein, failing in his teens to find in Baroque music any of the drama and passion that he found in the swelling Romantics or the dissonant Modernists, tried extreme contrasts and variations in tempo when he played Bach and his ilk.  Later, he understood that Baroque composers expressed one emotion at a time, developed throughout one movement of a larger work.  Drama comes with the next contrasting piece or movement.  (see Bernstein's book, The Joy of Music.)

I, too, have found Baroque music to be charming and brilliant as an eighteenth-century timepiece or wind-up animation, and no more emotionally involving.  I tune in regularly to the radio program Sunday Baroque for background music while I make breakfast or read, knowing that the composer will run a limited amount of material through a series of more-or-less predictable procedures to fill the air with music sometimes ebullient, grand, or contemplative, and always steady.

But this past year, Bach and Handel took me by surprise during live performances, and I felt them reach through the centuries to grab me in a way that struck me as modern.

First, the Cathedral Choir and Schola of St. Philips Cathedral, Atlanta, Dale Adelmann, conductor, teamed with The Atlanta Baroque Orchestra, Julie Andrijeski, director, to perform Bach's St. John Passion at Roswell Presbyterian Church north of Atlanta, February 24.   A soprano singing solemnly of Christ's suffering momentarily lapses into a dancing, bubbly celebration of what this means for us and for mankind, a victory over death!  Then, just as suddenly, she seems stricken anew by the immense cost borne by our savior.

Then, at Easter, our little choir at the Episcopal Church of St. James, Marietta, GA, performed Handel's Hallelujah chorus from The Messiah.  With organ, strings, and brass, we sounded bigger than we are.  Now, this is a piece I've known since I listened to Dad's LP before kindergarten, sometime around 1963, and I knew what to expect.

Handel does his Baroque thing: after we hear the phrase, "Hallelujah" a few times, at different pitches, and each voice has taken turns with it,  he throws a new phrase into the mix, and there's mixing and matching, along the same lines as before:   King of Kings and Lord of Lords!  And he shall reign forever and ever.

In the middle of it all, every time I sing this, I have to smile.  We basses sing snippets as punctuation when other parts take a breath:  "forever"  (long pause) "and ever" (longer pause) "forever and ever."  We concentrate on the counts or we'll gum up the works of this charming clockwork.

At Easter, just when I was thinking that, really, it's just too much, the trumpet came in with a descending run of sixteenth notes, coming down into "King of Kings!" at a higher pitch of the scale.  I burst into tears and couldn't sing for a couple pages.  It's energy, it's care and craftsmanship, it's full-hearted, full-throttle statement of belief and joy, and it's hugely communal, every part different, every participant concentrating, every note fitting just so into place, and all of it holding hundreds of listeners transfixed while we sweated every beat.

I love my modern composers.  I loved hearing Bernstein's Symposium at the Atlanta Symphony around Easter, with its openly emotional melodies, tugging undercurrents, and startling dramatic eruptions.

But I give the Baroque its due, too. 

Monday, July 02, 2018

Playful Dog

Just after sunrise this morning, when I asked Mia if she'd like to go for a walk, she'd already heard my car keys jingle, and she knew what was up. What followed happens every time: She jumps, her gleaming eyes meeting mine in mid-air.  She runs to fetch a chew toy to carry with her to the car but drops it when the hatchback goes up -- sniffing around the car is so much fun.

We walk in places where other dogs aren't liable to be, because she still reacts with hysterical yelps, jumps, and twists, despite thousands of dollars with different dog trainers.  The perimeter of the Publix strip mall is usually safe, and an odiferous delight for a dog with a liking for rotting food and the bread trucks unloading.  A driver tossed her a tennis ball this week, which she gripped in her jaws and held up proudly as we pranced around.  Once this week, at twenty paces, she tugged straight to a thicket of bushes and dove in to produce a chicken bone.

At home, she loves keep away, and she loves tug-of-war.  But most of all, she loves to retire under the table or on the stair, in my view, to chew her prize.

Her malignant tumor was removed in April, but cells spread still.  She's getting tumor-shrinking drugs and chemo every three weeks.  She doesn't know she's sick, except when nothing comes of her squatting.

I'm enjoying every moment with her that I can.  I want to learn from her how to play with such abandon, how to trust, how to enjoy what comes, how to accept what I must.

Some other postings about dogs on THE WORD SANCTUARY.
  • I've written about Mia before,in "Mia's Anima, a Dog's Soul" and, one of my most popular postings, "The Dogless Days of August," about the period when she was away being trained.
  • I enjoyed a few years with young Mia together with her older playmate, Luis. "Trying to Catch My Old Dog Luis," was my effort to "capture" his physical presence in words, while he was still with me; a year later, I wrote, "Luis, Rest in Peace."
  • "Dogs are Poetry" is a reflection on a spiritual dimension to dog ownership, focused on Dean Koontz 's faith-tinged memoir of his dog, Trixie, and a book by monks about the dogs they raise, supplemented by my own experiences with Luis and his mentor Bo. 
  • About Bo, there's "Remembering Bo," and, from a year earlier, an essay that began, "This may be Bo's last winter."

Monday, June 25, 2018

Worship and Ordinary Life: Flipping our Perspective

Finishing my bike ride one Saturday in June, I saw the artist making a portrait on a utility box at one corner of Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward neighborhood [See Photo].  Did he paint black stripes on a white background, or white stripes on a black background?  My knowing the answer doesn't make much difference; but the question flips the way I see the picture.

Father Daron Vroon has a penchant for flipping our perceptions of familiar doctrines and parables.  Preaching recently at the Episcopal Church of St. James, Marietta, where he's associate rector, Fr. Daron pointed out that a shepherd would be insane to leave the ninety-nine in search of the one; so Jesus doesn't mean "I am like a good shepherd," but -- flip! -- that a really good shepherd should be like Jesus. Explaining that the twenty-five Sundays after Pentecost, being counted by "ordinal" numbers, are called "Ordinary Time," Fr. Daron preached that our scripture selections in this season concern how we live with the Spirit after the miracle (the Exodus, the Resurrection), making this season -- flip! -- Extraordinary time. 

The common idea of worship needs flipping, too, writes Fr. Daron in our church newsletter (The Word, May 2018). We commonly think of worship as a retreat from real life, where we "recharge" before we go back into the fray, or as "nourishment" to fill us up for our real missions.  That's what we pray just before we "go into the world … to love and serve You with gladness and singleness of heart."

But Fr. Daron digs into the church's ancient history to find that worship was considered to be participation in God's foundational acts for the universe.  "Everything that happens outside of worship," he writes, "takes its meaning from worship."

So we think of worship as the black stripes painted on the background of real life.  Fr. Daron tells us -- flip! -- worship is the base; other business, the overlay.

The periodical Forward Day by Day presented the image of wedges - worship wedged into the day.  Fr. Marshall Jolly writes how his days at monastic retreat were punctuated by worship  at sunrise, in the morning, at noon, at sundown, and at night.  "Ordinary life is wedged into the space between my prayers" at the monastery, he writes. At home, "I spend my life trying to wedge prayer into the spaces between ordinary day - to - day moments."  (FDbD June 14, 2018).

The conflict between daily work and daily worship resolves in accepting that we participate in God's works of creation and salvation both by our business and our worship; worship is the context for the business.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Mister Rogers was my Neighbor

In Atlanta's Tara Theatre to see the new documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor?, I had a sudden flashback to the day I met Fred Rogers in person. What stimulated the memory was archival footage of him in 1968, greeting a studio full of enchanted kids and their parents for a meet and greet.  He enters on the set of his show, waving to all, wearing his famous red sweater.

My family lived in Pittsburgh until I was seven, years when Fred Rogers developed Mister Rogers' Neighborhood there for WQED.  Our TV was black and white; what I suddenly recalled was my delight to see him in full color, and awe when he turned those intensely attentive eyes to me.

Did it really happen? For certain, I remember that Dad took me downtown on a Saturday to see another local TV personality "Miss Jordan"; I believe, now, that Fred Rogers was part of that day, too.

Even if my memory is playing some kind of trick, the documentary is an eye-opener to what Fred Rogers offers, even today.

Mister Rogers offers courteous persuasion when he wins over a senate panel intent on de-funding the fledgling Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1969.  Visibly bored, chairman Senator John Pastore announces that he won't waste any more time listening to a witness reading prepared text that he could read himself.  Rogers, prepared text in hand, smiles, and, sweet as always, makes a deal: "One of the things that a child in a healthy family learns is trust," and says that he trusts Senator Pastore to read the text, "because it is very important to me." Educational TV offers kids the message that feelings are mentionable and manageable. For an example, he recites lyrics based on a boy who asked, "What do I do with the mad inside me?" The verse speaks to how the child can feel like he does everything wrong, like he has no control; but the chorus tells what you can do with those feelings: "You can stomp!"  Pastore says, "You just got your twenty million dollars!"

Mister Rogers models an age-appropriate way to reassure anxious children, without pretending that it's all okay.  The homely little hand puppet "Daniel the Tiger," voiced by Rogers, asks the adult actress on screen to blow up a balloon.  After watching silently awhile, he asks, "What's assassination?"

[At this point in the story, whether I've heard a recording, told someone about it, or written about it, I've teared up.  Telling Mom about it at a cafĂ©, I wept copiously. I don't understand why.  Is it "Daniel's" voice?  Friends and family of Fred Rogers tell us on screen that his childhood self speaks through Daniel, and perhaps it's a universal inner voice.  Maybe it's a residual memory of 1968, a year I recall well for frightening escalation of war, two assassinations, and riots.  Or is it the timing?  After a period of silence, during the blowing up of the balloon, the question seems to come out of nowhere -- but we realize that "Daniel" had seemed distracted and down before. I think that's it: How many of us were afraid to speak questions because we knew that Mom and Dad would be uncomfortable answering them?]  

She explains that assassination is when someone gets killed in a "surprising way" that leaves everyone feeling sad and frightened.  NPR's Fresh Air played what happens moments later, not shown in the documentary. The actress lets air out of the balloon to explain death to "Daniel": the air goes out and doesn't come back in. The image is simple, familiar, non-threatening.

Mister Rogers confronts racism without saying a word about it, simply offering "Officer Clemmons" a chance to cool his black feet in a wading pool beside his own white feet -- an episode that aired during a summer when whites were furiously reacting to black teens' attempts to use public pools nation wide.  (The pools in Atlanta closed rather than integrate.) Emulating Jesus -- for Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister -- he kneels to dry the feet of Officer Clemmons with his own towel.

That foot - bathing scene replays years later, with a different subtext.  The two grown men express affection for each other, and discuss how it's all right for men to say how they feel.  We learn in the documentary that Fred Rogers, upon learning that actor Francois Clemmons was gay, told him to keep the secret or be fired.  By the time of that replay of the wading pool, Fred Rogers had told Clemmons that the lyrics of his closing song were for him: "I like you as you are."

Mister Rogers shows us how to listen.  When he listens to little children in a crowd, or to adults (during his short-lived series Old Friends, New Friends for grown-ups), his eyes don't waver, don't even blink, while he waits for the other to finish. In fact, he waits even longer, silence encouraging the other to say more.

His most memorable interview, he said, was with a boy, wheelchair-bound, named Steve, in the week before last-chance surgery. Without a script, Rogers listens to Steve tell about his mechanized wheel chair, and about things he likes, and about how he sometimes "feels blue." "But I'm not feeling blue now," Mister Rogers says. And, to the surprise of everyone on the set, they improvise a duet.

Another memorable interview was with the famous gorilla Koko.  She peels his socks off, looks closely in his eyes, and hugs him.

Mister Rogers teaches us to keep quiet.  In silence, he watches a turtle crawl towards the camera; he sets an egg-timer to show what a minute feels like. That was "terrible TV," comments one associate, but it worked.  Late in life, speaking to college graduates, he pauses for a full minute while his audience is asked to think of the people in their lives who made them feel special.  We see graduates moved to tears; when the documentary's director turns the same challenge to friends and associates interviewed for the film, some of them are in tears, too.  So are we.

Mister Rogers was an easy target for mockery -- Rogers tells us that the most memorable mocker, Eddie Murphy, hugged him when they met -- but I was not aware how viciously he was attacked for telling little children that they are valued as they are.  Conservatives blamed him for creating a generation of cry-babies who feel entitled.  They asked,  What about responsibility? What about hard work? What about doing something to make yourself worthy?    

Discipline turns out to have been as much a part of Fred Rogers as kindness.  We see his daily workout, a slow, steady swimming of one mile at an indoor pool.  Every day, for years, he maintained his weight at 143 pounds, a number that, for him, signified "I love you" -- one letter, four letters, three letters -- and he exerted will to keep the weight, to keep his cool, to maintain his message in the face of mockery and incomprehension.