In yesterday’s post I made reference to the number 143, quickly explaining that the number means “I love you.” The backstory goes way back, maybe 15 years or so ago when I was explaining Abraham Maslow’s concept of self-actualization to a group of PSCS students. I was looking for a human example, someone with whom the students might be familiar, and I chose Fred Rogers. Yes, that Mr. Rogers, he of the famous children’s TV show on PBS.
I had recently read a brilliantly written article by Tom Junod that was both an interview with and biography of Mr. Rogers that had appeared in Esquire Magazine in 1998. If you ever need a pick-me-up of any kind, I highly recommend it. Esquire has it archived here. It’s a long article but worth every minute you’ll spend reading it. You’ll emerge warmed for doing so, your faith in humanity restored (if you need it restored). Really.
So… In the article Mr. Rogers tells Tom Junod that for as long as he can remember he’s weighed 143 pounds. Getting on the scale each day, he’s looked at the dial and seen 143. Being Mr. Rogers, he decided there was some meaning for him in this. He told himself, there is 1 letter in the word I, 4 letters in the word love, and 3 letters in the word you. 1-4-3 = I love you. So each day Mr. Rogers saw a message of self-love on his bathroom scale.
I read the article to my students and while reading it got intrigued by an idea. We’d recently been talking about how something goes “viral.” Now like I said, this is maybe 15 years ago, before “going viral” was as common of a phrase as it is now. I asked the students what it might take for something to go viral, and if they wanted to try to start a little movement of positivity to see if somehow it might go viral. I brought them back to the 143 section of the article.
One of the moms at PSCS had a button maker and used it to make all kinds of fun buttons, things she gave away or sold as part of her crafts business. I thought she might make some 143 buttons for us, things we could wear and give away. So the 143 movement began.
Before we were done we had a store that sold 143 shirts on Café Press (it’s still there – in fact, you can still buy a 143 shirt or a button!) and a hoard of interested people. I can’t say the idea ever went viral but it sure touched a lot of people.
One person touched was my niece, Stephanie. She, herself, was a high school student at the time and tried to promote the idea at her very large public high school. I don’t think it got too far there, but Stephanie did find the 143 rock at a shop at the Pike Place Market soon thereafter. It had the same font I had chosen, yet it wasn’t something my students and I made. We took this as a positive sign and Stephanie gave me the rock for Christmas.
Here’s where the story keeps being fun for me. A couple of days after I left the 143 rock at the Give and Take Garden in May this year, Bentsen and I were walking in our neighborhood. Not far from our house is one of the storage facilities for National Barricade, a company that builds and distributes road construction signs and equipment. As usual, parked along the sidewalk was a huge piece of equipment that can be programmed to deliver a specific message. There are many of these, of course, and each comes with its own number. Two days after dropping of the 143 rock at the Give and Take Garden, you know what number was on the equipment.
I took these pictures and sent them via text to Stephanie.
Postscript – Two years ago I again tried to generate some interest in the 143 concept by inviting people to make a poem out of words found on page 143 of any book that held meaning for them. I posted these on a blog that you can view here. If the idea interests you, send me one!