Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Tonight I watched the PBS documentary,  Mr. Roger’s Won’t you be my neighbor? Seeing those familiar scenes brought up a swirl of feelings.

I watched Mr. Rogers every day when I was a young girl growing up in Oregon. My world was in chaos, although no one at all knew.  In the conservative tradition of my upbringing, there were unspoken rules to be perfect. And for a pastor’s kid, perfectly perfect.  My Dad used to joke that “public relations” was our family motto. My day child and night child lived on two planets, it seemed. The fear that came as the doorknob turned in the night never saw the light of day.

But every day,  as I turned on the t.v., Mr. Rogers would open the closet door, and put on the sweater, and change into his shoes.  And for a time, my world would be safe, and ordered.

 “I hope that you’ll remember/ Even when you’re feeling blue/ That it’s you I like/ It’s you yourself/ It’s you, it’s you I like.” 

Even as a grown up, forty years in the literal desert and back again, it holds true. “The child is in me still and sometimes not so still.”  When I let that long-ago child know that she is safe, and that I like her, I create order in the landscape of my own internal neighborhood.  “Who we are in the present includes who we were in the past”, Fred Rogers said.

And so, for tonight, I held space to remember. The sound of rain against the window, mixed with snow, echoed the memories of yesteryear. The lump in my throat told me I was very near indeed.

In this season of life, past the half century mark, I am looking for threads of goodness. I have wrestled these last two decades to do the hard work of remembering. It is courageous work, bold work, to go back for a little girl. And I will continue to go back, as often as it takes.  Because I like her, just the way she is, and she needs to know.

Remembering the story takes courage.

When violence is part of the narrative, it can be brutally hard. But there is another kind of courage required to remember the moments of goodness. The sound of the rain, the crunch of the leaves as fall turned to winter, the feel on my face of the cold wind as I walk…

These are sensory memories, too.  They also are embedded in the cells. And somewhere, mixed in there, is the sound of a trolley.

And in that sound, perhaps for us as a collective neighborhood it is time to remember.  And in the remembering, to find the courage to fight for justice,  to order a world in which we can remember that we are all, indeed, neighbors.

 “When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”

 “Please, won’t you be…my neighbor.”

 *All quotations from “Mr. Rogers” —Fred McFeely Rogers (March 20, 1928 – February 27, 2003)


Joanna Wilder is a lover of truth. She is a birthkeeper and a professor. She is a mom of six, and married to one bold man. She is a desert girl transplanted to the Pacific Northwest for a season of change.