If you haven’t seen It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, I recommend it. Frank and I both relished the film, even though we didn’t grow up with Mr. Rogers. (We grew up before Mr. Rogers!) So, when I stumbled across the podcast Finding Fred, I dove in.
And this made me think about you.
Christof Putzel’s the guest on Episode Eight. He’s an award-winning reporter who spent much of his 1980s childhood in Moscow; his journalist parents were both working there. Moscow was bleak and lonely, and he was miserable.
Video cassettes from American friends were a rare bright spot; that’s how Christof watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Over and over and over.
His fascination with the Neighborhood and its whole cast of characters was the reason his mother wrote to Fred Rogers about her sad son in Moscow.
And one day, Mr. Rogers showed up at their apartment door with his cardigan and his blue shoes and his puppets. Christof talks about Mr. Rogers squatting down, eye-level with his surprised seven-year-old self. He describes how he felt seen. And heard.
“All any of us want is to be loved. And to be heard. And to be seen. And I think that your Presence is the greatest gift you can give somebody.
Learning how to be genuinely present, like in that moment that he came down and sat and looked me in the eye, asked me a genuine question. You know, you felt that he didn’t feel he needed to be anywhere else.
That’s Presence. And I feel like when you can give that to another human, that’s the best gift you can give somebody.
And I think what keeps us from doing that is—it’s just really hard to be Present.
I think that our minds are scattered with our wants, what we think we want. What our desires are, the way that we think we’re going to get it. Our relationship to the world, how we think the world perceives us. We care a lot about a lot of stuff that usually isn’t relevant, and I think that’s what gets in the way.”
What if you want to give someone that gift, your Presence?
Maybe you want them to feel seen and heard, the way people describe feeling with Mr. Rogers. Maybe you want to make a connection, not only for their benefit but for yours too.
How do you do that?
You’ll be glad to hear it doesn’t require a cardigan and blue sneakers. That’s a relief, isn’t it?
Christof is right about scattered minds and diverse desires. I’d add that neither your head nor your heart will be your path to Presence.
No, if you want to give somebody the gift of being seen and heard … if you want to be Present to them, the way to get there is with your body.
Physical sensation—your feet on the floor, your seat on the chair, the temperature of the air on your skin. These are the keys to being present. Grounded, centered and firm. In this space. At this time. With this person.
Presence isn’t a thought or a feeling. Presence is embodied, right here, right now. We sense it and so do the people with us.
And of course, we drift. Thoughts and feelings appear, sometimes lots of them. They can take us out of this moment and away from this time. It’s not because we’re disinterested or bored or we’d rather be somewhere else. Those gaps in our attention are really part of the human condition.
And, we can come back. Back to the physical sensation … and with that, back to really seeing and hearing them. Really seeing and hearing ourselves, too.
Try it right now.
Sense your feet on the floor, your seat on the chair. Breathe. Be there fully and notice what you experience.
Then, later, try the same thing in a meeting or a sales conversation or on a conference call. Feet on the floor, seat on the chair. Breathe. Pay attention to the difference in the quality of the exchange when you’re making a genuine effort to see them. And hear them.
Christof Putzel is right. When we’re really Present with another human, that does feel like a gift.
Being Present brings the magic to your neighborhood.
Post a comment below to share your own experience … or your thoughts about Mr. Rogers!
And if you want to check out the podcast, you can find it on Fatherly.