This Thanksgiving, the new film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” about television personality Fred Rogers and starring Tom Hanks, gives some worthy lessons about how to deal with the stresses that often come with family gatherings around the holidays. During this fractious political season, the lessons are fitting for our country, too.
The film’s biggest lesson: forgive. Spoiler alert: forgiveness is possible, even when you’ve experienced childhood trauma committed by a parent. This was the case for the skeptical, prize-winning, fictional investigative journalist Lloyd Vogel of Esquire magazine (based on the real-life journalist Tom Junod, also of Esquire), who is hell bent on exposing Rogers as a fraud. What Vogel finds instead is an incredible journey of redemption to forgive his abusive father, a serial cheater on his mother who abandoned the family when Vogel was young and Vogel’s mother was sick and dying.
After multiple interviews with Rogers, Vogel uncovers the truth, that the megawatt children’s TV host is the real deal. It becomes obvious that Rogers’ deep love for people–no doubt curated in part through Rogers’ training as a Presbyterian minister and belief that all people are God’s children–inspires Vogel to forgive his father–who admits and apologizes for his behavior–and reconcile before his elderly father’s death.
The film reminded me of the themes present in a recent book by pastor Rev. Anthony B. Thompson titled “Called To Forgive;” the minister is the husband of Myra Thompson, who was murdered when white supremacist Dylann Roof entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, S.C. on June 17, 2015 and murdered nine black parishioners. The aftermath of the shooting shocked the world, but at Roof’s first bond hearing, family members of the victims forgave Roof. Then-President Obama, impressed with the family’s ability to forgive, attended the AME members’ funeral service and spontaneously sang lines from “Amazing Grace.”
I interviewed Thompson last year and earlier this year and was moved beyond comprehension at Rev. Thompson’s message that forgiveness is necessary to heal and that we are all redeemable, including our crazy Uncle Fred or hurtful cousin Sally.
Rogers’ TV show taught us that no matter our beliefs, race, political or ideological stripe, we all have inherent worth and we all have the capacity for love and forgiveness. Good message if there are tensions at the Thanksgiving dinner table.