The first television show I ever watched as a child was Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Every weekday, Mr. Rogers invited me into his home. He sang to me. He talked to me about important matters, like divorce, and going to the doctor, and how I shouldn’t be afraid of being pulled down the bathtub drain because I couldn’t possibly fit. I took him at his word because, over time, I had come to know him. We were neighbors.
I knew everything there was to know about my neighbor, Mr. Rogers. I knew that each time he came into his home, he’d take off his coat and hang it up in the closet, put on a zippered cardigan, and change from dress shoes into sneakers. I knew that he fed his gold fish faithfully. I knew that he treated his mail carrier, Mr. McFeely, with great kindness. Most of all, I knew that Mr. Rogers wanted me to be his neighbor, and that his neighborhood was safe. “It’s such a good feeling,” he sang, “a very good feeling, the feeling you know that we’re friends.”
Forty years later, I confess that I do not know my neighbors nearly as well. I don’t even know the name of my mail carrier. This is not such a good, good feeling. I’m not so naïve to think that there must be a Neighborhood of Make-Believe out in the real world. I simply find myself wanting to know the real neighbors in my own community better – to know their stories, their needs, their hopes and dreams, and for them to know mine. I call them “neighbors,” but in all honesty, I’m talking about strangers – whether they live three doors down from me, or three clicks down the road. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood when these strangers become our friends.
After the Sept. 11 attacks more than ten years ago, Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth said,
“I used to think that the greatest commandment in the Bible was ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ I was wrong. Only in one place does the Bible ask us to love our neighbor. In more than thirty places it commands us to love the stranger… It isn’t hard to love our neighbors because by and large our neighbors are like us. What’s tough is to love the stranger, the person who isn’t like us, who has a different skin color, or a different faith, or a different background. That’s the real challenge. It was in ancient times. It still is today.”
“I’ve always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,” sang Mr. Rogers. “I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.” I think what Mr. Rogers understood about his neighborhood was that neighborhoods are made one neighbor at a time; that until you ask someone, “Won’t you be my neighbor,” they’ll forever remain strangers to you.
Neighborhoods are made one neighbor at a time. You’ll know you’ve found a neighbor when you can talk to them about the important matters of life, like going to the doctor, and divorce, and bathroom drains. You’ll know you’ve found one when you can take them at their word because, over time, you’ve come to know them as friends.
Photo Credit: Spooky Momma