On September 14, 1997, Fred Rogers wore a watch on his left wrist.
And it’s fair to wonder why he did.
He was getting an Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award. Surely, the powers that be would take care that he was where he needed to be when he needed to be there. And a watch wouldn’t have been for show appeal. Twenty-nine years of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was evidence that showiness wasn’t essential to Mr. Rogers.
In fact, in his office at WQED in Pittsburgh, Mr. Rogers had hung a quote from The Little Prince: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
What was visible to the eye, though, over the 865 half-hour shows he taped, was Mr. Rogers walking in the brown front door of his house, looking straight into the camera, and telling his neighbors how much he liked spending time with them, how much he appreciated them.
Appreciation, he once told a group of Middlebury students, “is a holy thing.”
But before he walked in that brown door, Mr. Rogers had gotten up at 5:30 in the morning. He’d gone for a swim at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association – the swim kept him from getting a little cranky and getting a little belly – where he was pals with Jeff, the locker room attendant.
Jeff once told Mr. Rogers, “Everybody can be something.” Mr. Roger’s once got Jeff a cake for his 25th work anniversary cleaning the locker rooms.
Mr. Rogers didn’t drink, smoke, eat anything that “had a mother.” And he’d started his show because he didn’t like how on TV, people demeaned each other.
So, there he was on September 14, 1997, being honored for his work. And Mr. Rogers was wearing that watch on his left wrist.
When he came onstage to accept the Emmy, he looked straight into the camera. Said:
“All of us have special ones who have loved us into being.” He stood calmly. This man for whom appreciation must be one of those essential things that is invisible to the eye.
“Would you just take,” he continued, “10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are.”
Then he said, “I’ll watch the time.” And Mr. Rogers looked down at his watch.