Several years ago, I wandered in the Exhibit Hall at the UU General Assembly and found myself standing at a booth where you could make a button with your own personal slogan. I decided to make one that said, “What Would Mr. Rogers Do?” I suppose I had in the back of my mind the slogan then popular among some Christians, "WWJD?", or "What Would Jesus Do?"
You see, when I was a child, Mr. Rogers was one of my best friends. I rushed home from school so I could finish my homework in time to watch him. As an adult, I learned that Mr. Rogers was a Presbyterian minister. How appropriate: Mr. Rogers had taught me, when I was a child, more about ethics than any school or church, second only to my family. Mr. Rogers (and Henrietta Pussycat) encouraged me to respond thoughtfully to life’s changes and to remember that my actions affect others and influence how others think of me.
Aside from ethics, Mr. Rogers taught me something about belonging to a neighborhood. I’ve been thinking about that a great deal recently. Last week, I had lunch with a friend at Golden Temple, a café and store about a mile from my house in Birmingham, Alabama. I started to reminisce about an event the café no longer holds. I called it Spaghetti Saturday. On the first Saturday of the month, everyone was invited to a free spaghetti lunch. What a crowd it would attract! While it provided a meal for many who needed one, the event included people like me, who had a pantry and enough food in it, but also lived on the Southside.
There was nothing particularly great about the food. My favorite part was this: The only “price” asked of you was that you take a turn serving. My favorite months were when my sister, my daughter, and I served. Dishing up plates piled with spaghetti and fresh baked bread for my neighbors. Seeing all those grateful, smiling faces. Knowing they might be the ones serving me next month, in a cycle of giving and receiving.
I wonder: Do you feel you belong in your neighborhood? How do you help others to feel this way? What memories do you have of the neighborhoods where you have lived? How are you making memories even now? How do cycles of giving and receiving play out in your neighborhood... or do they?
Before you act as a citizen of the world, first be a good citizen to your immediate community. Before you can love your neighbor, you kinda need to know them.
This is a great time of year to reacquaint yourself with your neighborhood. Feed your spirit through reconnection and reclaiming. Take a stroll with your camera and photograph fall foliage. Offer to rake a neighbor’s leaves or hire a neighbor kid to rake yours. Bake extra goodies for holiday meals and take them to neighbors you haven't yet gotten to know. Walk around outside more often, instead of driving. You’ll notice things you had not seen before and meet new people. What other activities will cement the feeling that you belong to this neighborhood and it belongs to you?
Watch full episodes of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood at PBS Kids.