A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Much has already been said about the timely, and beautiful documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”. It artfully and respectfully chronicles the life of Mister Fred Rogers. A man who helped raise two generations at just the right time. A time when children started being raised by television, and little of it was dignifying to the human soul.

The response to this film has been massive, because it comes at a time in American history, when we desperately need building up instead of tearing down. It’s safe to say, I was tearing up, or on the verge of tears for most of the film, but one particular moment still resonates with me so deeply, I can’t talk about it without crying again.

But first, a little context.

I grew up in a wonderful family, surrounded by the loveliest community, and had the very rare privilege of an affirming childhood environment. This show was wonderful, safe and familiar.

As we all discover, in the arduous transition into adulthood, not everyone knows about their divinely bestowed value. At a young age, I knew I wanted to be some sort of missionary. Not the kind which condemned or demanded immediate change, but the kind that ascribed worth, listened and trusted My Creator would love people into wholeness, if only they’d give Him the chance. He’d been unfairly misrepresented after all, and remains, to this day, a topic of much debate. Is He loving? Is He full of wrath? How can we know which to expect from Him?

Over the past twenty years, my “philosophy of ministry” has taken many forms, but has always circled back to a desire to ascribe worth, and entrust people to the Lord. It has also come back to basic ideas of hospitality and being a good neighbor.

Although very bare bones Biblical, I struggled with wondering if that was enough. Through this last year, I’ve heard God affirming in my heart, that being a good neighbor is all He’s asking us to be. 

When I saw the trailer for “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” I cried. I already knew it was about to connect a golden thread across my messy life–weaving through years of insecurity, self doubt, mistakes, victories, performance art, education, change, travel, and turmoil–and attach firmly in the home of a beautiful childhood.

So there I was, sniffling my way through a perfectly done documentary, when it happened. They began to set up Mr. Roger’s reaction to September 11 and my heart dropped. I was suddenly afraid of what he might say. We were all so scared at that time and wrongfully demonized people I now love so dearly. God has led me to a life dedicated to being a good neighbor to Middle Eastern peoples, who are displaced now because of events the United States thrust into motion as a response to 9/11. 

What was he going to say? Well, spoiler alert, he said this.

I’m just so proud of all of you who have grown up with us, and I know how tough it is, somedays, to look with hope and confidence on the months and years ahead. But I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger: I like you just the way you are. And what’s more, I’m so grateful to you for helping the children in your life to know that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe, and to help them express their feelings in ways that will bring healing in many different neighborhoods. Its such a good feeling to know that we’re lifelong friends.

He’s proud.

He knows it’s tough.

He is grateful for the ways we continue to bring healing to many different neighborhoods.

Many have said this film makes them want to turn around to be the good person Fred Rogers always believed they were. I, myself, feel challenged to charge ahead as he did; addressing confidently the issues we face today, with kindness. Not as an opportunity to tear down, or point out how wrong other people are, but in hope; always defaulting back to the divine value God, Our Creator, placed on each and every one of us.

In these days, which again feel so dark, he has re-asked us to be what the Lord has also called us to be: light. We can create more beautiful days in our neighborhoods.