Sometimes when I’m having an especially rough morning, I attempt to reset my day with the wisdom of Mister Rogers:
“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood
A beautiful day for a neighbor
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?”
As I sing softly as I walk across the quad, I am reminded to look for the beauty around me, especially in the life of my neighbor. While, admittedly, sometimes it takes much more than a song to snap me out of my morning blues, it at least is a start for viewing the world in a much more realistic way.
Some may critique Rogers as a dreamer living in his world of make-belief. However, Rogers still sought to teach about real joy and real heartache in ways that children could understand. Through explaining grief and anger on a child’s level and being an example of joy, he became a neighbor to many children, showing them how to be neighbors to others.
Characters residing in the Neighborhood of Make Believe can never fully hide from the troubles of the real world, as we often find ourselves. Unlike other cartoons and children’s programming of his time that blasted ahead with violence and conflict, Rogers examined the tragedies and controversies of his time with the eyes of a child, slowing down to ask questions and uncover real emotions from his characters and viewers.
An item as simple as a kiddie pool becomes a bridge between Rogers, a white man, and Officer Clemmons, a Black man, who share the cool water on a hot summer day in the Neighborhood, during a time of national segregation. Rather than an idyllic world where serious issues are pushed to the periphery, Rogers brings them front and center and calls for everyone to love and accept others.
And in the times that love and acceptance were not shown, Rogers never shied away, drawing from his own experiences of being bullied as a child. He expressed his doubts of self-worth openly through the character of Daniel Tiger, showing children that it was okay to cry and lean on others for support.
Our world today can seem like a far cry from the hopes of Rogers. The brokenness and injustice rightly deserves righteous anger. We need to end systemic racism and police brutality. We need to uproot our implicit biases. We need to protest, and we need to become neighbors.
With Christ’s command and Rogers’ example of loving our neighbors, this seems like an easy thing to do. We just need to love those around us. But wait — have we stopped to look and see that everyone around us actually looks and sounds like us? Is this the neighborhood that truly represents the kingdom of God?
Returning to Mister Rogers’ song, I think sometimes we get it flipped. We’re so eager to always accept his invitation — to say “Yes!” to being his (or someone else’s) neighbor — that we forget to extend that same invitation to others.
In that same way, we are often eager to accept the love of Christ — and rightfully so — but we need to extend that love to others. The friend whose tweets and posts drive us up a wall. The coworker we have nothing in common with. The stranger we see at Walmart.
This love should not be forced or faked, but one that looks out for others’ well-being. It is both grace and truth that preserves, not destroys, the life of another human being.
There are many days that I wish I could be just like Fred Rogers, a man who loved everyone unconditionally. However, I know he’d want me to be myself, flaws and all. With a song as his invitation, Mister Rogers’ love was genuine. He loved us, and called us to love one another, just the way we are.