Catching a final movie before returning to school, Anna and I decided on A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks as the beloved American children’s TV host, Fred Rogers. Whilst I was initially reluctant, preferring villains and car chases, it is one of those movies that provides great insight amongst the sometimes messiness of ordinary life. It is drawn, on the true story, from the friendship between Rogers and journalist Tom Junod, who reluctantly was required to profile Rogers for Esquire magazine in 1998 and found himself surprised by the man’s depth and genuine warmth.

Junod is a hard-edged and successful journalist, a new father, married to a woman who clearly loves him, and has a broken relationship with his father that has never healed. He is a man hurt by his past who has closed off certain emotions in order to survive which ultimately affects all his relationships. It had been years since Junod had seen or spoken with his father who abandoned the family at a crucial time. His sister’s third wedding brings them together; their encounter ends in a fistfight. A bashful Junod rolls up to meet Mr Rogers with his face cut and bruised. “A softball injury,” he explains. 

From here on, we witness the wounded soul who meets a healer. It celebrates the virtues of patient listening, gentleness and the honest expression of feelings. Rogers makes seemingly a number of offhand remarks to Junod that can strike meaning for us all. He reminds Junod that ‘everything mentionable is manageable’ and gives basic advice to us as parents that we ‘were once a child too.’

The friendship helps Junod to make peace with his father, to be a more responsive husband and a more involved father. It is a timely story of acceptance and forgiveness; lessons we need at any time and likely always will. Rogers explains that forgiveness is not a simple story with a beginning, middle and end. It is often rather more like putting a puzzle together. 

I would recommend the movie to anyone who carries an unnecessary burden in their life. Perhaps it will be an inspiration to any parent who has made mistakes and thinks that they can’t be healed. Its message is out of sorts with the culture we inhabit, one in which people too often hang onto grievances and wounds at the price of their own freedom. 

I find forgiveness the most threatening part of the Christian story. It asks us to give away a prized possession, namely the power to hold something against another. It is said forgiveness means accepting that the past is never going to change and this is one of the hardest lessons we are called to both teach and learn.  During this upcoming Lent, we pray for forgiveness, to be open to the light ahead rather than the darkness behind, to start anew, to make amends, to seek humility. We are all called to freedom. 

Matthew Hutchison