Won’t you be my neighbor?

It’s weird when you’re watching a documentary with a scene from a puppet show that aired more than 50 years ago to find yourself saying, wow, that sounds like you-know-who. In an early episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, King Friday XIII was very angry because Lady Elaine had rearranged things in The Land of Make-Believe. King Friday didn’t like change. So border guards were put in place to prevent people from coming and going. In a side note in an article about episode two, the author wrote, it’s a scenario that seems almost too real today — a petulant ruler who blames outsiders for making changes to his kingdom so he decides to shut his country’s borders, even though the real problem is WITHIN his kingdom.

The second episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood aired when I was 4 1/2 years old. I wasn’t aware of the social and political turmoil of the time – ongoing racial divisions, the Vietnam War. I don’t remember how old I was when I first watched the show. I just remember that Mr. Rogers was kind, calm and consistent – and a good neighbor.

In Won’t You Be My Neighbor, I learned that Fred Rogers bravely and lovingly tackled a lot of adult issues in his children’s show. In an episode that aired in 1969 (1065), Mr. Rogers cooled off his feet in a small pool of cold water. When Officer Clemmons, a black man, stopped by to visit, Mr. Rogers invited him to share the pool with him. It was a simple gesture that may not seem like a big deal now, but in the 1960’s, many swimming pools were still segregated. It was, as Hannah Anderson wrote, an act of reconciliation and humility, symbolic of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.

In the documentary, I learned that the number 143 was special to Mr. Rogers. In an episode with Mr. McFeely, he explained that 143 was a kind of code. He said, it takes one letter to say I, four letters to say love, and three letters to say you.

One of the things I didn’t know before watching the documentary was that many people blame Mr. Rogers for giving rise to our entitlement culture. They think that because he told kids that you are special just for being you, he was in effect telling them that nothing is expected of you. Don’t blame Mr. Rogers. His critics miss the message he was trying to get across – that we all have inherent value as human beings. And I think Rogers understood that some people really need to hear this. God loves you unconditionally.

I found myself crying when I saw a scene with Daniel the Tiger, a puppet based on Fred Rogers himself. Daniel wonders to Lady Aberlin whether he was a mistake. I’m not like anyone else I know. Lady Aberlin sings to him, You’re not a fake. You’re no mistake. You are my friend. At the end of the scene, the two sing at the same time – Daniel repeating his worry that he is a mistake as she tells him he is not. His self-doubts persist even as she assures him he is fine just as he is. Even as an adult, I know how persistent negative self-talk can be and how important it is to have friends who let you know that you are accepted just as you are.

Fred Rogers was well known for his love for his neighbor. In explaining the song Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Fred Rogers said it is an invitation to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving. Love is at the root of everything. Love or the lack of it.

It’s an invitation to help somebody know that they are loved and capable of loving. Love is at the root of everything. Love or the lack of it.

Fred Rogers

Sometimes the real problem is not other people. It is the lack of love within us. You are both loved and capable of loving people who are not like you. Since we’re in this life together we might as well say, would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?

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Sometimes I Wonder If I’m a Mistake

[Daniel Striped Tiger]

Sometimes I wonder if I’m a mistake
I’m not like anyone else I know
When I’m asleep or even awake
Sometimes I get to dreaming that I’m just a fake
I’m not like anyone else

Others I know are big and are wild
I’m very small and quite tame
Most of the time I’m weak and I’m mild
Do you suppose that’s a shame

Often I wonder if I’m a mistake
I’m not supposed to be scared am I
Sometimes I cry and sometimes I shake
Wondering isn’t it true that the strong never break
I’m not like anyone else I know
I’m not like anyone else

[Lady Aberlin]

I think you are just fine as you are
I really must tell you
I do like the person that you are becoming
When you are sleeping
When you are waking
You are my friend

It’s really true
I like you
Crying or shaking or dreaming or breaking
There’s no one mistaking it
You’re my best friend

I think you are just fine as you are
I really must tell you
I do like the person that you are becoming
When you are sleeping
When you are waking
You’re not a fake
You’re no mistake
You are my friend