On Mr. Rogers, Gratitude and Writing Lessons in Appalachia

I save up most of my movie watching for Christmastime. One of the movies I recently saw is A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which tells the story of Lloyd Vogel, a reporter assigned to interview Mr. Rogers forEsquire. The plot of the movie is loosely based on true events from a reporter’s life and his interactions with Fred Rogers, but what caught my attention was the way the movie also tackles themes of forgiveness and gratitude.  

At one point in the movie, Mr. Rogers and Lloyd are sitting in a restaurant, and Lloyd is flustered. He is trying to interview Fred and yet also trying avoid Fred’s persistent questions about his personal life. In his gentle manner, Fred Rogers, portrayed by Tom Hanks in the film, moves the conversation towards a meditation. He asks Lloyd for one minute of silence to remember the people who supported and loved him into who he is today.  

This reflection feels appropriate not only for this time of year, but an everyday necessity for my life as a writer. This fall Marianne Worthington pointed me towards Piano in a Sycamore: Writing Lessons From the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop, a compilation of many voices that have shaped Hindman and the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop into the supportive community from which many have drawn deep learning and connection. I’ve found the anthology’s short prompts and reflections to be a enriching companion in my writing practice. It has also been gentle reminder that I am not alone in this place and in writing. Many have come before me, and many will come after. 

Being in Hindman, it’s hard to escape the presence of literary mothers and fathers who have walked these leaf-covered trails. I feel their presence while standing in the May Stone Building and studying the bindings of a wall full of books. I see their faces while sifting through archives and walking a hallway lined with portraits. These predecessors include Lucy Furman, Ann Cobb and James Still. More recently Silas House, Rebecca Gayle Howell, George Ella Lyon, Lee Smith and so many others have poured themselves into this work and the writers who come here.

So, how do we even begin to thank those who have loved us so into who we are today? At the Emmys in 1997, Fred Rogers made the same request to the audience when he received the Lifetime Achievement Award. He invited them into silence, “Ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are, those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life.” He ends the time with this encouragement, “How pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they’ve made.” 

This is a paradox of writing. We must do the solitary work of putting words to the page, yet it is only because of those kind readers, friends, family members and teachers that we grow and write. Remember that we come from a long line of story-tellers who have shared their lives and wisdom. As I go into this new year, I am paying attention to ways that I can share that same gift with others and in turn show gratitude to those who have graciously cared for me.

–Hannah Markley