Foreign, Familiar & Mr. Rogers


To: ——-
From: Maria Manza
Date: Fri, Jun 8, 2018

Hey sis –

A few Sundays ago I went to a dance performance (co-produced by the fab Kate Wallich!!) that made me think of you.

I watched the five figures navigate space: toes came within millimeters of cheekbones, knees brushed by earlobes. At times, the figures moved in identical ways while facing opposite directions. Trying to avoid flinching at the near misses, I reflected on the title of the dance (Familiar Foreign Body by Tom Weinberger) and considered the foreign, familiar human experience. Perhaps that was the point of the production, maybe not. But it did get me thinking on how we sometimes fool ourselves into believing we are going it alone – that no one could possibly understand this particular circumstance or feeling – while all the while we are making similar movements, perhaps just facing opposite directions.

Familiar, foreign. Foreign, familiar.

I think I mentioned to you a few weeks ago that I watched a documentary about Mr. Rogers called “Mr. Rogers & Me.” The entire United States could benefit from re-watching his iconic shows right now. One of his quotes featured prominently in the movie is still bouncing around in my brain:

Deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.”

Long ago, Mr. Rogers testified before Congress about the importance of teaching kids that their feelings are “meaningful and manageable.” It’s such a simple concept, but it’s one we tend to over-complicate as a society. Why do we rush to explain and fix instead of pausing to acknowledge pain? Why do we stuff feelings rather than try to understand and contain them? The easy answer is that feelings are hard. But maybe they wouldn’t be so hard if we are taught early on that our feelings are both valuable and that we hold the power to deal with them. And wouldn’t that help us connect more with one another? Feel more familiar?

I’ve tried to incorporate the “deep and simple > shallow and complex” concept in my work. Over the past few years in my role, I’ve focused more on listening to victims and affirming their feelings of pain, hurt, and loss rather than rushing to offer some semblance of a solution. When something tragic happens within the court, I try to check in periodically with staff who were close to the situation to simply ask how they’re doing – pause – and listen. How do you teach the kids in your classroom to understand that their feelings are meaningful and manageable?

The night before the dance performance, I took D—— to a fancy dinner. The best part of the night – beyond the perfect dirty martinis – was our long conversation in our private booth. We were fully present, not on our phones (except to play him the video of our sweet nephew singing happy birthday to our non-birthday loving brother), and we got deep.

To feel known by another is a real gift, and the dance I witnessed the next night reminded me of the power of connection to heal the pain of feeling unseen.

Talk to you when I’m back on the grid.


Love ya –

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