Mr. Rogers and Me: Why We Need Our “Neighbor”

It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair
But it’s you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys
They’re just beside you.

Summer months as a young child were usually spent indoors. Although we’d take the occasional trip to the grocery store, pool, or library, the blistering St. Louis heat and humidity kept the outdoor fun to a minimum. However, every weekday morning I spent 30 minutes with my neighbor, learning about life, having fun, and singing new songs.

This neighbor didn’t live next door or even down the street. Rather, Mr. Rogers appeared on my TV screen each morning to tell me I was special, unique, and loved. I never met Mr. Rogers in person, and yet I was convinced (and still am convinced today) that he was my friend.

This week I finally had the chance to see Morgan Neville’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? From the first note that led into the movie, I found myself holding back tears as nostalgia and memories flooded my mind. This didn’t feel like a documentary about a Hollywood celebrity. This felt like a deeper look into a man who was my friend and neighbor.

As I watched the movie and sang along with songs, like the theme to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and “It’s Such a Good Feeling” (snap, snap), I had a warm smile that was also blanketed by sadness. As I thought about this man on PBS who taught me about kindness, love, death, racial unity, and more, I realized that my soon-to-be-born son won’t get to experience Mr. Rogers in his lifetime. But even sadder than that, I thought about the thousands of kids around the country who won’t ever seen Mr. Rogers’ principles lived out in front of them. During the 31 seasons of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, many kids heard lessons from Mr. Rogers that they weren’t hearing anywhere else. Many kids didn’t have parents who told them they loved them, that they were special, and that they were safe. They didn’t have positive role models in their lives who were teaching them kindness and encouraging them to do great things. Yet they had Mr. Rogers, who wanted every kid to know that they were special and loved because they had been made unique by their Creator.

It’s a safe bet that Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood couldn’t exist in 2018. Not only would the show not get ratings, but it’s unlikely it would ever make it on the air. In a day when cartoons are getting crazier and attention spans are getting shorter, it’s hard to believe a simple, quiet show could have much success. In our corrupt world, it’s hard to believe enough trust could exist to let a man speak into children’s lives for 30 minutes every day. And yet these things tell me we need Mr. Rogers more than ever. We need that calming presence. We need that guiding light. We need that person instilling principles of virtue into our culture. We need that person we can trust, and a person who won’t take advantage of that trust. We need Mr. Rogers.

Sadly, we no longer have Mr. Rogers. But, neighbors, what we do have is his legacy. My son might never see an episode of Misters Rogers’ Neighborhood, but I can take what I learned from the show and use it as a teaching opportunity for when his fish dies or when he sees someone with a physical disability. I can follow Mr. Rogers’ example and express the importance of racial unity. When bad things happen, I can tell him that he’s safe and I will protect him. When he gets called ugly names or finds himself in a heated disagreement, I can remind him of the importance of civility, kindness, and love. And when he doubts his worth, I can remind him that he is loved, special, and fearfully and wonderfully made.

Mr. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, but there’s no doubt he found his true calling and his true ministry through his PBS show. He taught us how to live, he taught us how to love, and he taught us how to make the world a better place. When I think about Mr. Rogers, I often think about Jesus’ words in Mark 12:31: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

For over 30 years, Mr. Rogers asked us every day, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” The answer to that has always been yes, but thank you Mr. Rogers for always being ours.

But it’s you I like
Every part of you.
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself
It’s you.
It’s you I like.

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