Staff Columnist

PERSPECTIVES: Here's the thing -- Hand-me down clothes a size too small

By Gretchen Teske, The Union

The other day, I turned on my TV and saw Mr. Rogers. Well, I saw Tom Hanks, as Mr. Rogers, but the resemblance was uncanny. The smile, hair, stature and even the signature cardigan were all in place.

I decided to look one of his episodes up on YouTube, admittedly it had been awhile since I’d seen one, and one of the first things I noticed is the way he physically transforms himself. When he walks in his front door, he is wearing a sport coat.

He slips it off, hangs it up, then replaces it with a cardigan. Next he takes off his dress shoes and replaces them with his signature blue sneakers. It was almost as if he was making himself comfortable in his own home, showing the viewer the real version of himself.

The version who wants to hear how the day was, and what they thought of things and the one that invites everyone to be his neighbor, no other questions asked. Who wouldn’t want a neighbor like that? A person who takes the time for themselves, to get comfortable, change into an ensemble that allows them to devote their whole attention to you.

It’s like he’s saying that in order to give you his complete focus, he needs to be comfortable himself. Maybe that’s why America struggles to listen to her peers -- because she isn’t comfortable.

Do you ever feel like America is wearing hand-me down clothes a size too small? Shoes once shiny in promise now dull from dust that has settled on wars far from over and too tight for feet swollen from standing up for what they believe in; socks with holes in them from the millions who march in the name of justice; pants above their ankles because America just keeps growing and looking up at the bright blue sky, but forgets to look down and see if everything is all right below, to see if everyone is covered.

A belt that’s lost its support and hangs loosely around hips that hold up hands, balled into fists instead of rubbing the back of the broken during times of crisis; a shirt with stains from past mistakes, a shirt pocket that holds a crudely held together handkerchief, stitched together with hate and used to wipe away words of anti-Semitism with one side and wipe clean the mouth that forms words of racism and anger on the other.

All carefully hidden by a sport coat, missing buttons from those who grasped at them, begging for reconsideration because this was their land first; elbow patches working as Band-Aids made of thoughts and prayers after parents go home and set the table with one less plate because another mass shooting has taken their loved one away; a hat with print that tells us America was once great and she can be again.

But the thing about this outfit is that it is the only one America has ever known. She did not come in silk and diamonds and Chanel boots. Her immigrants came with all they could carry and said this is me, tired, poor, a huddled mass yearning to breathe free, a wretched refuse of your teaming shore, homeless, tempest-tossed seeking out the lamp beside the golden door. Auntie Liberty beckoned me, and here I am.

People come to America looking for Mr. Rogers, but in return they get someone dressed up in clothes that do not fit and are trying to tell them false truths. No one takes off their sport jacket and swaps it for a cardigan, takes of their work shoes and trades them for Keds.

In a time where so many want to go back to the “good ole days,” I struggle to find what is so great about a past riddled in protest and strife and war, that we would want to return. I do not know what it looks like for America to hang up the sport coat and put on a cardigan, or put on a comfortable pair of shoes, and listen to the real issues and figure out a way to solve them, and the thing is, America does not either.

All she has ever known are these hand-me down clothes, a size too small, worn out and in need of repair and replacement. Everyone has a different opinion on what size, style and color are best and in the end nothing ever gets accomplished. But that’s the thing about America, the land of the free and home of the brave, that makes it seem such a paradise for those who have no shoes, belt or hat. America has clothes that can be changed, and that, for many, is a sign of hope.