by Father Mark Goldasich
At the time of its U.S. debut in February 1968, I was too much of a “big kid” to watch a TV show geared to ages 2-5. Only much later did I learn how much I missed in never watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
My interest in Fred Rogers, the host of the show, was kindled by a tiny book, both in physical size and pages, given to me by a parishioner. It contained excerpts from Rogers’ “The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember,” like love, courage, inner discipline and “being good neighbors as citizens of the world.”
Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister who used his creative gifts of composing, writing and puppeteering to engage children with respect and help them to deal with and understand a world that’s not always nice. He started his show with this song he wrote:
“I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you! I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you. So let’s make the most of this beautiful day.”
What’s the essential aspect of being a good neighbor? It boils down to kindness and compassion in everyday life. This story illustrations that:
A young man was busy at his job of carrying out the groceries at a local supermarket. On one of his frequent trips, he caught sight of a woman in the parking lot struggling with her groceries. Her cart was packed, as were her arms.
As the boy headed back into the store, he noticed that the woman, like many people, put one of her packages on the roof of the car while she hunted for her keys and opened the door. Then, she began to transfer her sacks from cart to car.
After getting in her car and starting to drive away, the young man saw she’d forgotten to retrieve the package that she’d placed on the roof. Immediately, he sprinted after her. When she made a turn to exit the parking lot, the package on the roof rolled off.
Fortunately, the boy caught the package — the woman’s baby — just before it hit the pavement. (Story found in “Illustrations Unlimited,” edited by James S. Hewett.)
Now, our being a good neighbor usually won’t involve such a lifesaving action. But helping another person in any way changes the world for the better. Here’s what Mister Rogers had to say about it:
“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.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
A prime example of that is Richard Sack, whose story is featured on the back page of this issue. His volunteer work as prison volunteer, youth counselor, teacher and builder was recently recognized with an award from the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.
I love that Sack is pictured in his “characteristic bib overalls,” attire that says to me he’s come to work, not just talk or supervise. Maybe all Christians should consider adopting bib overalls as our clothing of choice to let the world know that we’ve come to serve, not to be served.
Honestly, though, can living in a kinder way really impact the world? Well, here’s Mister Rogers again:
“Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person. There have been so many stories about the lack of courtesy, the impatience of today’s world, road rage and even restaurant rage. Sometimes, all it takes is one kind word to nourish another person. . . . One kind empathetic word has a wonderful way of turning into many.”
The holidays will present us with many interactions with others in various settings. Especially in these days, rather than asking, “Who is my neighbor?” let’s smile instead and say, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”