Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Mister Rogers Photo from My Fridge

My former Composition II (argument and rhetoric) students will tell you: I just love Mister Rogers, who played a pivotal role in the most dynamic lesson I've ever planned or delivered.  But first--close to thirty years before I brought him into my classroom--my mother used Mister Rogers to teach me a different lesson.  This is how it went:

I was, like, three years old. Maybe four.  Five days a week, my mother paid me to watch Mister Rogers' Neighborhood so I wouldn't be underfoot while she prepared dinner.  On this particular day--for whatever reason--I wasn't about it.  My mother announced, in her sing-songy manner: "Brandy (because I was, indeed, Brandy with a "y" in those days), it's time to watch Mister Rogers!"

I answered: "No. I don't want to."

My mother, never one to become easily discouraged, trilled, ever-so-sweetly: "Don't be silly. Of course you want to watch Mister Rogers."

I replied: "No. I don't. I don't want to watch Mister Rogers today."

At this point, my mother's tone changed just a weensy bit, and she asserted gently: "Now, Brandy, you know Mommy needs to make dinner.  You stop this and sit down and watch Mister Rogers.  You love Mister Rogers!"

I looked at my mother, stomped my foot, and yelled: "NO! I don't want to watch Mister Rogers! I hate Mister Rogers! I hate him! I hate him! I hate him!"

And my mother--with perfect calm (albeit a squint to her eyes and a slightly sharp edge to her voice)--responded like this: "Brandy Renee.  Do you know that Mister Rogers just heard everything you said?  Look at him there, on the tv screen.  Think how hard it must be for him to keep talking after hearing you say you hate him.  You should be ashamed of yourself!  He's always so nice to you, and you have been so mean to him!" 

I burst into tears and set to making things right with Mister Rogers.  My mother left the room to prepare dinner.  I spent the next several years believing I could communicate with people through the television, and I was never again unkind to Mister Rogers.

Now you know, ladies and gentleman, why I am so messed up.

But seriously: Mister Rogers was a good guy, and you'll never find evidence that he was anything other than the gentle man we all watched on PBS.  I keep his photo on my refrigerator, and I try to look at it, every day, with fresh eyes.  When the question "What would Jesus do?" intimidates me, the question "What would Mister Rogers do?" feels comfortable in the way I imagine his zippered, cardigan sweaters did.  (They were knitted by his mother, by the way.)  And--while I have a long way to go in living my life like Mister Rogers did (let alone like Jesus did)--I can tell you, honestly: the desire is there.

Mister Rogers cared about being a good neighbor.  So did Jesus, who said (in Matthew 22:39): "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."  I thought of both Mister Rogers and Jesus, today, because I dropped in, unannounced, on two different neighbors and came home with three pies.  My neighbors have plowed my driveway; cared for Clementine in the nursery of my church and parking lot of my pediatricians' office; fed my cats and collected my mail; and shown up at my doorstep with coupons, deviled eggs, clothes for my children, and desserts.  When Clementine was nine months old, and I started sharing the news that Jim (whom we all knew was about to lose his job) and I were pregnant, again, most of our loved ones were (understandably) concerned and responded with: "Really?," "Oh my," "Wow," or, "Ok then."  But not my neighbor Virginia Ann.  She squealed so loudly that she startled me, and I nearly fell off my chair!  And I think her sheer delight in that moment--when it felt like the world might just cave in--was the best gift she's ever given me. 

I have lived in many places where I did not even know my neighbors, let alone love them.  Mister Rogers would be proud of these people, and I am happy to use up this space in saying: thank you, Jesus, for my neighbors.


  1. I dunno Bran, there was something off about that show. Mr. Rogers wanted to be your friend to the point of obsession. I never got that weird feeling from Captain Kangaroo.

  2. Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan) was a great guy, too. Former Marine. But Mister Rogers was a Presbyterian minister, and I think his close relationship with Christ set him apart and made him seem a little odd to most of the world. John 15:18-19, and all.

  3. "I spent the next several years believing I could communicate with people through the television, and I was never again unkind to Mister Rogers."

    I love this sentence.

    Great post, great wisdom. Love your writing.

    Love you, too.