On the surface, Joan and Jeff had nothing in common.
Joan Rivers was a successful TV personality and Jeff Erlanger was a little boy whose bout with a spinal tumor confined him to a wheelchair. What the two did share was a common experience. In 1980 Jeff appeared on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to have an honest talk about disabilities and life as a 10 year-old in a wheelchair. In 1983 Joan hosted The Tonight Show and interviewed Fred Rogers. In both, Mister Rogers looked into his neighbor’s eyes and sang one of his signature songs:
It’s you I like, it’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair–but it’s you I like.
The way you are right now, the way down deep inside you
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys–they’re just beside you [Rogers changed “toys” to “jokes” for Joan and “fancy chair” for Jeff]
But it’s you I like–every part of you,
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like, it’s you yourself,
It’s you, it’s you I like.
If Joan and Jeff had nothing in common on the surface, their responses to the patron saint of Gentleness showed the deeper distinction. Joan, unable to stand the unmitigated kindness, pulled her Mister Rogers-style sweater over her head to hide herself. Jeff simply smiled and said, “Thanks!”
As we turn our attention this October to showing mercy to others, there is a crucial prerequisite we must first address. We cannot show a mercy to others that we have not first experienced ourselves. If we are to look into the eyes of others and convey unmerited kindness with word and deed, we must first look into the face of our Father in heaven and receive his unmerited kindness. As the story of Joan and Jeff shows us, this requires the faith of a child.
Before you concern yourself with showing mercy to others, ask these questions: Do I receive God’s mercy for me? Do I allow God to look into my eyes and say, “I love you”? Do I want to cover my face and hide or do I smile and say “Thank you; I love you too”? Have I relinquished my adult way of thinking that would seek to earn God’s affirmation? Have I humbled myself to the faith of a child that simply receives his Fatherly care as a gift?
The cross is where God sang his costly love song over us. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We cannot share this love with others if we are hiding from it. Let us daily look into his eyes and receive his love. Only then will we be able to look into our neighbor’s eyes and allow our lives to sing to them.
Visit our Facebook page to see videos of Mister Rogers singing to Joan and Jeff.