The Mr. Rogers’ Project

I owe a huge apology to Fred Rogers
— as
well as the God who gave him life and spirit.

fred rogersI’m not proud of early impressions of and feelings for the man, held for too many years.  His sweetness and simplicity were too Pollyanna for me.  Inclined as I was (and still can be) to any number of calloused and jaded “false selves,” Fred and Mr. McFeely and Daniel Tiger were not welcome in my neighborhood.

Things took a radical shift a month or so ago when Kathy and I watched a documentary on Netflix entitled, Mr. Rogers and Me.  (cf., http://www.misterrogersandme.com/)  It was a joy to watch and experience the man and his message afresh – even if it was a bit uncomfortable (giving shape as it did to this confession).  It certainly has me wanting to see the more recent and acclaimed, Won’t You Be My Neighbor.  (cf., http://focusfeatures.com/wont-you-be-my-neighbor/)

Beyond such contrition, it’s sparked a resolve in me to be a better neighbor – not just in some general fashion but in very specific and formal ways, especially as we’ve settled into our retirement home, here in Bryan, Texas.  I do not feel free (at least, right now) to talk about my new neighbors/friends.  I’ll leave it, for now, at my having personally met all of those who live immediately around us (and remembering their names).  (And that doesn’t include the dozens to whom I’ve extended smiles and “good mornings” and “have a great day!” — as Birdie and I have resumed our morning walks in the area.)  I regret that plans otherwise kept us from attending a Fourth of July neighborhood swim party, next door.  We’re looking forward to a block get-together (bar-b-que!) in August.

I’m mindful of a number of things that converge to encourage this drive, this mission, this “Mr. Rogers Project” (as I am playfully calling it).  Yes, there was (and is) the resurgence of interest in the man, the saint.  But, that is probably the last straw – a definitive straw that contributed a name to the endeavor.  As deep, though, were and are…

  • The acknowledgement that this introvert (me) needs community – that my introversion is an explanation [for why I need some private, down time to recharge] but not the excuse for escaping others that I too often have made it in the past.
  • The observation (courtesy of Len Sweet) that Americans have lost their front porches (having migrated indoors and to their privacy-fenced backyards) to the end that we’ve lost our sense of neighborhood and our being better connected to the diversity around us
  •  The deep conviction that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” – or, to be most precise here, that the restoration of decency and civility in our nation and world begins with the small step into the world just beyond my doorstep. (Here, I cannot help but share my belief that the resurgence of interest in and attraction to Fred Rogers is somehow a product of the times we live in – and the deep, inner hunger for virtuous life and living and character.)

I know it won’t be easy.  It cuts against the grain of many who’ve become isolated – and are suspicions of folks knocking at the door.  Heck, it goes against the inclinations I’ve nurtured over the years.  Having changed residences at least 20 times in my life, my wings for taking off are much stronger than my roots for settling down or reaching out.

Still, I am committed and look forward to this exercise and discipline –
becoming a good neighbor,
better defining and experiencing
a most fundamental commandment of life and living,
giving expression (in word and deed) to the essential message
that “I like you just the way you are.”

And so, I will continue…

  • morning walks, with Birdie in tow – with an eye and heart to those who need a “good morning!”
  • to be an informal greeter at Walmart and elsewhere – sharing a smile and a “have a good day” to all who come my way.
  • to look for the ways I can drop what I’m doing and cross the street to help with a chore or, at the very least, to shake a hand and catch up.
  • to give some thought to the design and placement of a “Turquoise Table” in the front yard (cf., http://www.kristinschell.com and https://tribeza.com/front-yard-people/

I doubt you’ll find me donning a cardigan sweater or canvas tennis shoes.  (Yet.)  But, don’t be surprised if you overhear me humming, “It’s such a good feeling to know you’re alive.”

I welcome your comments and feedback–
a
bout Fred Rogers, yes;
b
ut, as important, I believe,
your feelings and impressions about
this awareness of and
sensitivity to and
intentionality for
our neighbors and
our neighborhoods.


posted by Jim Reiter on July 24, 2018

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