On Being a Neighbor

Last week, I went on vacation to see my husband’s family in Pittsburg, PA. It turns out, our visit coincided with the 50th anniversary celebration of when Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood first aired. Signs, quotes, and all kinds of displays were all over the city to pay tribute to the man who not only gave joy to millions of children over 3 generations, but singlehandedly saved public television in the ‘70s.

I used to love watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood when I was a child. His show was fun to watch and very easy to understand.

So, in honor of a special man who brought a profound message to all of us who watched him, I took some of the quotes I saw around the Pittsburg area and applied some of my own thoughts to them. When I first read them, I reflected on how easy it is to be down on ourselves for our limitations. It is so much better for all of us if we think in terms of the positive we all bring to each other.

Mutual caring relationships require kindness and patience, tolerance, optimism, joy in the other’s achievements, confidence in oneself, and the ability to give without undue thought of gain.” 
— ― Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

I never knew that Fred Rogers grew up sick with asthma and overweight for most of his childhood. He felt isolated and downtrodden. He had a very low self esteem, because he could not socialize very much. His maternal grandfather, Mr. McFeely began to work with Fred through simple interactions and very positive statements to help him develop more self esteem and confidence. Fred’s  feelings about himself changed slowly over time as a result. So profound was this change for Fred that he named a character on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood Mr. McFeely.  His grandfather’s influence is also what drove him to help children. Television was the medium he realized would reach the largest number of children to get his message about their value and place in the world.

“The thing I remember best about successful people I’ve met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they’re doing and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success. They just love what they’re doing, and they love it in front of others.” 
— Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember


When I come to church, I feel what Mr. Rogers is saying above. Our clergy are happy to be here. Parishioners are happy to be here. We are a community, and despite our relatively small size, we are successful by being together. Being happy doing something and calling that a success is something I’ve found very hard to do. Other measures of success in society may be important at some point or another, but it is not the only measure. That feeling of happiness being somewhere is what makes me want to come back to doing the work of relationship. That is the feeling Fred Rogers discovered when his grandfather told him his presence made him happy.

 “There’s a world of difference between insisting on someone’s doing something and establishing an atmosphere in which that person can grow into wanting to do it.” 
— Fred Rogers, You Are Special: Neighborly Wit And Wisdom From Mister Rogers

 My son worked on Good Neighbors this summer. He was very unsure if he would like ‘physical labor’ on a stranger’s house. He got such a positive response from his work that he told me less than a day after it ended that he could not wait to do it next year. He generally enjoys going to Church as well. He’s motivated mostly by the youth group, but also to  hear what our Clergy is going to say in their Homily.

It was not always this easy to get him to want to participate.

There were plenty of Sundays where I had to bribe him with treats from Starbucks to get him into the car for Church without a fight. It was hard work for me (and expensive!), but I wanted him to understand the importance of a Church community and prayed I was doing this ‘right’. Well, I know now there is no real ‘right’ way- except to make sure those around us feel loved and respected. Let’s face it, all of us have trouble doing things we don’t like. It is so easy to berate ourselves when we don’t want to do something. It’s hard to remember that we are doing  the best we can and that this is OK.  We are here and that is enough.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” 
— Fred Rogers

I believe this statement to be true. So often, our news reports talk about the people who have done wrong, it is easy to forget that there were scores of other people who helped with the situation. For every car accident, there are teams of people both on the scene and later on who are there to help. The help does not always come from those who are assigned a ‘job’ to help. Often, help comes in the form of a person doing something profoundly simple- like giving a hug or holding a hand.


“There was a story going around about the Special Olympics. For the hundred-yard dash, there were nine contestants, all of them so-called physically or mentally disabled. All nine of them assembled at the starting line and, at the sound of the gun, they took off. But one little boy didn’t get very far. He stumbled and fell and hurt his knee and began to cry. The other eight children heard the boy crying. They slowed down, turned around, and ran back to him—every one of them ran back to him. The little boy got up, and he and the rest of the runners linked their arms together and joyfully walked to the finish line.
They all finished the race at the same time. And when they did, everyone in the stadium stood up and clapped and whistled and cheered for a long, long time. And you know why? Because deep down we know that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win, too, even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.” 
—  Fred Rogers

My son was the youth who fell off a ladder at Good Neighbors. Although not all the other kids could go up and comfort him while they waited for the ambulance to come (he only needed stitches – and has made a full recovery!)- one young man did walk right up and hold his hand while Pastor Adriane (from St. Michael’s) applied first aid. My son was truly touched by the simple, but brave act, of someone holding his hand and telling him he was going to be ok.  Since his injury, every single youth in our Parish and most of their parents, and many additional parishioners have come up to me and asked after my son’s health. I cannot ask for a more kind and sincere group of concerned people in a community.

That is ‘crossing the finish line’ together. Our children are learning it and they are living it- and we are all- as a Parish family-  successful, because of it.

So, the next time you’re thinking you may not be ‘good enough’ or ‘enthusiastic enough’ or have  ‘enough’ time to do something- remember you are here in this world and that alone makes me proud to be your neighbor!

Yours in Christ,

Karen Rodgers