If you spend some time at all in our little coffee house, you’ll notice that one of the things we did was name the rooms after ideas. As you step in and shift your gaze to the room immediately on your left, you’ll see various items in that room that we think signify a space dedicated toward imagination and fellowship: two bookshelves full of classics and donated books from the community (many of them with little flyleafs with messages from their donors), a chess board, and a 1940s era typewriter that was the first thing we bought when we decided to make the move. You’ll see a donated clock on the mantelpiece, a world war two era radio that was donated by a British friend, and a ship and a globe which, for me, serve as a reminder to heed the wisdom of St. Augustine’s notion that “the world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.”
And then you’ll see immediately above that old clock a sign written in a skilled and pointed calligraphy that reads “Room 143.”
After months of considering how we wanted to integrate our space with our mission--a mission where space and coffee are not things to themselves but catalysts for reinvigorating imagination and an opportunity for communal fellowship--we couldn’t get away from naming one room after a man and, by extension a message, that we sorely need in our contemporary world: Fred Rogers--143.
“It takes one letter to say I and four letters to say love and three letters to say you. One hundred and forty-three,” he remarked. He is said to have consistently weighed 143 pounds, in fact, and ensured this by always engaging in habits that would ensure constancy. No late nights. No late mornings, no meat, no television, (ironically), no tobacco, no alcohol, and daily exercise. He was like a Rule of St. Benedict for the modern world.
In one episode, Mister Rogers talked about this significance: “Explaining things is another way of saying, ‘I love you.’ And coming back to visit each day is yet another way. Oh, there’s so many ways, you’ll find them. You’ll find them as you grow. Many ways to say 143.”
Mister Rogers died nearly twenty years ago in 2003. Since that time, our world has continued to evolve and change. It has not all been bad by any means. But we all have seen terrorism, war, continued mass shootings, genocide, sexual cover ups exposed, fragmentary and divisive politics, increased depression and suicide rates, a pandemic, elevated addiction, and the consequences of social media and immediate connectivity that may or may not be the catalyst for continued fallout.
For Rogers, the coherency of the 143 message was built on the man. There was no duplicity. For him, this was a necessity. It was essential. It was eloquently simple.
Despite the passing of the man and the changing of the world, absolutely nothing has changed on the front and power of that message. In fact, if it has changed I would argue that the essentiality has only increased. We need more 143 kind of love. We need a simple and pure love. Our children need to hear it more. Our neighbors need to hear it more (even the mailman, if Mister Rogers is any indication). Heck, if we take Jesus seriously (and Rogers was a minister and saw his platform as a television based ministry radically different from the “preachers in sneakers” televangelists on other networks), our enemies and those we find ourselves at the most extreme odds with need to hear it more (Mt. 5.44).
This isn't a generic love. It isn't a culturally defined love. It is not a love because of a certain condition. It is not a love based on identification. It is not a love based on an avoidance of conflict or one that isn't dependent on forgiveness as a central element to it.
The 143 kind of love that Mister Rogers talked about was as close to an agape kind of love one can feasibly get on this earth. It was a 'child-like' love which is why his message carried so far (and still does) with children, many of whom grew up with Rogers as their only friend. It was one that loved despite acquaintance--love was the blank slate (the tabula rasa) upon which every other interaction and communication was based. It was a love that loved despite differences, age, condition, demographic, or value system. And for Rogers, he desperately believed this was a love that needed to be heard against all the other voices of the culture and life.
I would also venture to guess that for Mister Rogers, the 143 kind of love we need is not a love that is exclusive to the hearer. 143 is a two way street. There is an "I" in that sentence as much as a "you". There is a giving as much as a receiving, for the giver is changed as much by the giving of love as the hearer is changed by the receiving of love.
So we have a ‘Room 143’ because we believe that fellowship involves love. It necessitates it. ‘Community’, by contrast, does not necessitate love. It necessitates acceptance. But love can only happen with fellowship. And that is one of the things we want to be about in the world that we live in.
So next time you’re in for a coffee, we encourage you to take seat in the 143 Room and tell someone that you love them. You don’t even have to use those words. Just say, “143.” That’ll be enough.