As a child I was a faithful devotee of Mister Rogers and the television show Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. I would sing along to the songs, put on my sweater and tennis shoes when Mister Rogers did, and travel to the land of “Make Believe” on the trolley. As a child I believed him when he said, ”I like you just the way you are,” and “You are special.”
I still love Mister Rogers. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I Iearned that he was a Presbyterian Minister, who was ordained to do this cutting-edge thing that was a ministry to children through the relatively new medium of television. Mister Rogers felt that children and their feelings should be taken seriously. His show appeared simple and deliberate, and that gave all of us kids time to imagine, it gave us the space to wonder, it gave us the place to bring our fears and our joys. Sometimes I wonder how we got to the place where imagination and wondering and vulnerability were just for kids.
You may remember that every episode of Mister Rogers Neighborhood began with Mister Rogers singing the theme song that always ended with these words: “Won’t you be, please won’t you be, please won’t you be, please won’t you be my neighbor?” (You are not alone if you sang those words in your head.) That invitation of “Won’t you be my neighbor?” was in actuality an invitation to friendship. It was an invitation to get to know the people around you — the ones in your neighborhood.
I am curious about what would happen if we took Mister Rogers invitation to imagine, and wonder, and being real with one another in the neighborhoods where we live? Maybe in our neighborhoods we would find ourselves saying these words that Mister Rogers spoke at the end of every show: “You always make each day such a special day. You know how: by just your being you. There’s only one person in the whole world exactly like you, and that’s you, yourself, and people can like you exactly as you are. It’s such a good feeling, a very good feeling, the feeling you know, That we’re friends.” I’m glad that you’re my neighbor!