How does one define a neighbor?
If you’re Mister Rogers from the thirty year hit children’s television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, it’s everyone watching on the other side of the camera. Granted, that audience was mainly comprised of three to six-year olds who were simply in search of a thirty minute eye-glazing nap, but we were present nonetheless. The fact that he called both me and Julie Ziggler his neighbor—and we were pen pals in separate states—made the term confusing and spurned a few poorly written crayon arguments between us as to where the good man truly lived, but that’s neither here nor there anymore.
When I was a couple years older, “neighbor” meant the elderly folks who were the recipients of our May Day baskets on the first of that month. Stuffed with flowers, and maybe a sweet or two, the tiny wicker bins were dropped off on our neighbor’s front porch before we rang their doorbells and dashed away. The dashing part was easy, as the rule was if you were caught by the recipient of the basket, they had kissing rights. Eeyuck.
Then there was the constantly drilled in phrase, “DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR NEIGHBOR’S PAPER,” articulated with a spray of spittle that easily reached across a classroom of nervous test takers. And this, of course, intoned not only fear of one’s classmate, but suspicion as well. Again, I think the word suffered.
Just last week, I received an inbox full of reminders to participate in Neighborday (April 27, 2013 for all 50 states and growing globally), where folks were encouraged to do more than attempt to make eye contact with the person in apartment 3B with whom you’ve shared an elevator ride with for the last year and a half. Paste up flyers, set up a grill and have a block party, or make a cake, bring two forks and ring the doorbell of the guy who lives next door, or coordinate a “Thanksgiving in spring” dinner at your local park, or run around your block singing John Jacob Jinglheimer Schmidt while bashing cymbals together and see if you can get everyone to join in the parade. Be creative, they said. Try not to get arrested, I add.
This April, my son had an opportunity (read had no choice) to spend a week working with his classmates, repairing, rebuilding and reviving structures needed by folks living in a much more impoverished area of our nation. What he came away realizing was that whether because of a natural disaster or naturally bad luck, when trouble comes a callin’, you pray your neighbor answers the phone.
I think what moved those teenagers in such a monumental way was the understanding that all it really takes to make a difference is a drop of desire to do so. One pair of hands is a blessing to most folks, but one hundred pairs are enough to bring you to your knees.
Today, many people in both America and Mexico will celebrate Cinco de Mayo; a momentous day in history (May 5th, 1862) when a meager and poorly outfitted Mexican army overcame the leading and most powerful militia of the time, a case of David beating Goliath, a day where the notions of freedom, democracy, unity and national pride are passionately cheered for until the margaritas take over and make everything worthy of raising a glass in toast. And since it would be churlish not to acknowledge our neighbors to the south and offer them our sincerest words of congratulations regarding such a feat, I’d encourage you to haul out the bar blender and find that old lime rolling about in the back of the fridge’s fruit bin.
So whether or not you decide to make that cake, ring and run with a basket, or extend your hand, I encourage you to give a thought to Fred Rogers’ beloved song, and in particular, my favorite part:
So let’s make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we’re together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Lastly, I leave you with a quote from Mae West (who falls about as far from the position on the personality spectrum as Mister Rogers, but I wanted to be fair in my research): Love thy neighbor – and if he happens to be tall, debonair and devastating, it will be that much easier.
Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.
- Why Mister Rogers Always Told Viewers He Was Feeding His Fish (neatorama.com)
- Recommended Reading: 46 Things I Learned Making Mister Rogers & Me (partnersforpeace.wordpress.com)
- The Odd Origin of Cinco de Mayo (delanceyplace.com)