Long before the raft of high-profile Fred Rogers documentaries, biopics, books and remembrances, author Amy Hollingsworth’s, “The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers,” was the lone mainstream tome to explore the connections between his upbringing, faith, and luminous career.
When Chris and I began making “Mister Rogers & Me,” Amy’s book was our North Star; it lit the way towards connecting faith, values, history, psychology, socio-economics, and media in a clear, concise and deeply moving way. We hoped to do the same.
And when Chris and I began shooting “Mister Rogers & Me,” Amy was our first interview.
Amy, her husband Jeff; son Jonathan; and daughter, Emily; welcomed us and our three-light-setup right into their living room. There was a deli tray. And a fire in the fireplace.
Amy’s segment is critical in the film, transitioning the viewer from broad-stroke Wikipedia entries overlaid with big picture concepts to something steeped in specificity: cause and affect, genetics, psychology, study, practice.
Amy became more than a sounding board for my understanding of Fred Roger’ life, faith and career, she became a sounding board for my understanding of my life, my faith, and my career.
Because, as with reading her books, talking with Amy has a tendency to open one’s aperture on the world — seen and unseen — just a little bit. Her synthesis of theology, psychology, literature and the human condition always has something major to offer the head AND the heart.
And though she joined us for screenings at The Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, The Montessori Convention in Dallas, and The Newseum in Washington, D.C. (where she bonded with Susan Stamberg over a few grammatical bugs in my voice over) as our film went public 2012, it had been a few years since we’d spoken in person.
Amy topped our list of potential guests for this show, but when I emailed her, she was dubious; she was worried that she had little to offer in the face of an unyielding pandemic.
When Amy and I connected for a brief pre-production call, we picked up right where we left off. It was apparent in seconds that Amy had plenty to offer, as always.
We began our conversation, naturally, by remembering who had loved her into being, and went on to discuss neuroscience, the value of counting paper clips, and the imperative to cultivate an eye for the glimmer.
In 2006, when I was just getting to know Amy, I was recording what would become my under-appreciated “Desert Star EP.” The opening track was called “Flirting With Disaster,” an uptempo acoustic number chronicling a protagonist teetering on the edge of overstimulation.
The second was called, “Angels in the Atmosphere,” a muted consideration of the magic, beauty and mystery available at the edge of the frame. But I was ambivalent about the refrain:
There are angels in the atmosphere
The sky opens up when you’re near
The air grows heavy with light
And you say, Glory! I’m alive
It had come to me unconsciously (like most song lyrics), but was more than corny, it was Biblical! Amy loved it, and encouraged me to belt it out with confidence.
A few weeks ago, as we caught up prior to our shoot, I reminded her of the lyric. And told her how I’ve spent so much of the pandemic flummoxed by the duality of it all: the beauty in slowing down my day-to-day, the horror of the ongoing loss; the magic in all of my found family time, and the anxiety around our safety.
So I asked Amy what “glory” means.
It’s nuanced, she said.
In the Bible, glory describes the manifestation of God’s presence as perceived by humans. In Greek, glory is the condition of brightness or radiance. In Hebrew, it means heaviness or burden.
I stopped dead in my tracks, flummoxed once again.
Lightness and weight, simultaneously.
* * *
Saturday morning, as I sat in the living room reading The New York Times, I looked up to see the sun shining through window through the fall foliage. I paused, counted to fifteen, snapped a photo, and sent it to Amy.
“Glorious, indeed!” she responded.