Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Life Lessons with Mr. Rogers

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On a night when I wanted nothing more than mindless watching, I chose very poorly. With a peach margarita in one hand and an ignored cell phone with the days’ scrolling in the other hand, I chose “Won’t you be My Neighbor?” on Netflix. The first 15 minutes allowed for my original intent… but the rest? The rest I watched through tear-filled eyes and small adoring smiles. A man so present in my childhood, rewatching these scenes from the show instantly placed me on our floral couch that had seen better days.

Seeing him awakened almost a grandfatherly feeling that I was not expecting at all. And his message? His glorious, subtle, love-fueled message? Everyone matters. You are special; you are loved; you are valued. The more I watched, the more I remembered- Mr. Rogers didn’t just promote love and sunshine, he also touched on some really, really hard topics with kids at the receiving end. And it begged me to wonder just how similar the times are in the neighborhood.

He talked about divorce, assassinations, jobs, tolerance, feelings, and emotions to name just a few. Mr. Rogers’ cardigan provided comfort and his Keds tennis shoes made him relatable, even today. Heck, he even came back to do a special after 9/11 happened. This man who had been protested for making kids feel “too special” came back to address the rest of us to say: something scary has happened, it’s okay to feel x, y, z. But know, the world can be better.

Have we truly split so much it’s forever going to be an us vs. them mentality or do we as moms remember at the core that we all want what’s best in the neighborhood? Are things truly so different or has social media created a monster of a platform for every Jack and Jane to have an overtly loud opinion? I choose to think the latter, but I digress. I’m tired of the buzzwords, of the intentional misinformation with the sheer intent to separate people. In the land of Mr. Rogers, where he did every voice, all the music, and everything on set his objective always stayed on providing a spot of comfort and love for the kids. Moms, we can do better.

I hope that you’re proud of yourself.

The only thing evil can’t stand is forgiveness.

Mutual caring relationships require kindness and patience, tolerance, optimism, joy in others’ achievements…

As a Christian minister, underneath the puppets and the songs, the message (rather the question) was loud and clear: won’t YOU be my neighbor? And he meant it with sincerity. There were no buts, no follow-ups, and no exclusionary questions to be asked. He wanted you exactly as you are and where you are in your life. Are we able to do the same in today’s times? Whether you’re disabled, Black, Chinese, gay, Christian, Muslim, or any which way- It. Doesn’t. Matter. You belong. You add value. Won’t you be my neighbor?

I’m not naïve to think that times weren’t simpler back then. But also, they’re very much the same with small details rearranged. Nixon wanted to defund PBS, it was highly frowned upon to be in swimming pools with black people, and children were not permitted to express or regulate their own emotions. At a time when the world, when our own community feels so torn and divided, could it really be so simple as to ask our favorite TV personality, ‘Fred, what the heck do we do now?’ (Because we’re adults now so we can address him by his adult name too!)

I think the takeaway is simple: to love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now. All of your neighbors belong. It isn’t about more rights or less rights, it isn’t about who can be the loudest- especially if it’s at the cost of someone else. It’s simply sitting down and saying ‘while we may be different, we are each worthwhile and you belong here.’ It’s about inclusion because it’s the right thing to do. It’s not part of some hidden agenda or some political polarizing attack, humanity isn’t negotiable. It’s a matter of imagining if every single person went into his or her community and said one kind word or compliment to one another, and stopped judging people for the things they cannot change. How beautiful could our neighborhood be?

To all of the moms who are trying to navigate parenting in this seemingly terrible world. Kindness is key. You are valued. You are loved. 143.

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